Underneath the stars, Delly’s tiny hands raise up towards the sky as though trying to assess how tall she would have to grow to touch it. Anne watches, heels dug into the dirt underneath Gilbert’s front step, as Delly tilts back, back, back until she finally stumbles and is caught in Gilbert’s waiting arms. He scoops her up, blows a raspberry on her chubby little arm, and as Anne watches the pure joy in Delly’s face, she feels something growing inside of her that had gone previously unnoticed. It’s larger than heartbreak, she thinks, pushing her innards to the side as it fills her up. It hurts more than heartbreak too, but only because it feels so good, so wonderfully permanent, so intrinsically necessary, that it is painful. Her toes scrunch together in the dirt as she tries to contain it, to label it, but the words don’t come until she glances back at Gilbert again.
He’s stooping low to the ground so that Delly can wrap her hands around his fingers as she toddles forward in the cool evening grass, babbling to herself as she goes, while Gilbert responds or encourages occasionally. He takes a step forward each time Delly does as moral support and the thing inside of Anne roots there deeper, until she feels that it could burst out of her. She wraps her arms around her stomach and watches the two of them together, cheeks aching from smiling. When Gilbert glances back at Anne to give her a grin, she can see his reaction to the look on her face even halfway across the yard, and oh, she loves him, and loving him is one of her favorite things to do.
She wants this. That’s what it is. She wants this with Gilbert Blythe.
Thus far, their courtship has been chaperoned to the point of excess, which feels laughably backwards to Anne. Before, they had been allowed to walk home together, to speak alone in public without raising eyebrows, to take train rides sanctioned by Marilla herself. Now they can barely walk twelve steps down the road without someone emerging, seemingly out of nowhere, to remind them that they are always being watched.
It would be amusing if it weren’t so exasperating. Now that all she wants to do is to be alone with him, suddenly she isn’t allowed to.
But the chaperones and watchful eyes have also made it feel, in part, like a fantasy. Like something built to be put on a stage. Since he kissed her at the beginning of the school year, they’ve seen each other as much as possible, but it hasn’t been real life. It has been Anne with her hair swept up in a tea shop, Gilbert pulling her chair out for her. It has been Gilbert seated on a couch in the drawing room, his hands restless on his knees like all he wants to do is hold hers. It has been attempting to find secret spots for just a moment, hidden within busy streets and loud noises, so that they can be themselves without anyone else watching. And while all of that has been grand and romantic and theirs, it’s not real. This is real. Avonlea is what’s real.
She finds herself rediscovering him in the place that they call home, relearning what his voice sounds like underneath the sounds of crickets singing into the blue evening. She rediscovers herself, too, when she wakes up one morning and realizes that she doesn’t have to pin her hair up here if she doesn’t want to. She braids it back into one long braid down her spine and notes the way Gilbert’s eyes go soft when he arrives at Green Gables in the morning to bring them fresh apples from his field.
And now with Delly, she finds yet another part that she had been missing amidst the pomp and circumstance of the last several months. Just a boy in suspenders, messy hair, and silly smile, hugging his niece as she happily pats his cheek.
Real life. A life that she has a choice in, and that she wants.
Once Delly has exhausted Gilbert, he sets her back down in the grass and heads back to the porch steps, collapsing down next to Anne. Delly barely seems to mind the absence and begins to toddle around on her own, falling down as Gilbert lets out a laugh in the form of a long exhale. Anne glances over at him, trying to find his thoughts in the crease of his brow. To her surprise, she finds something akin to melancholy in his expression.
He’s silent for a long while, but Anne Shirley Cuthbert has never met a silence that she couldn’t defeat, so she nudges her knee against his leg and says, “What is it?”
If Gilbert is startled that she’d noticed his abrupt mood change, he doesn’t let on.
“My dad grew up here,” he says. “And my grandad. And I did too, and I suppose… I just didn’t expect to see new life here so soon after he died.”
Anne’s heart grows heavier in her chest as she watches a grief that is so familiar to her steal over him. She knows what it’s like to miss someone unreachable. She knows what it’s like to have that buried in your heart, an indelible part of yourself.
“He’d be glad to know that your adventures lead you to a family.”
A smile crosses his face, less like a shadow and more like a sunrise as it illuminates his features in a brand new way.
“He loved kids Delly’s age,” says Gilbert, full of enthusiasm. “He used to always squat down to their level and hold completely serious conversations with them.” He laughs a little disbelievingly. “As if a toddler would be able to talk about the best fertilizers for crabapple trees.”
“I bet they loved that.” She resists the urge to place her chin on his shoulder, not knowing who is watching them.
“They did. I used to always say that when it was my children growing up in this house—“
He falters and turns to her, uncertain if he had said anything uncomfortable. The brand new thing in Anne’s chest becomes explosive with the knowledge that it is only awkward because Gilbert had made it awkward, because his expression had revealed that she was who he pictured raising those children with.
There is so much in this world that she wants to do before they reach that moment, but still the thought of Gilbert wanting to marry her doesn’t hold anything but warmth and hope inside of it, and that in itself is a small miracle.
“When it’s your children growing up here,” she coaxes. Gilbert swallows before continuing.
“I just… always thought he would be their favorite person, whenever I pictured my life.”
She watches as he looks down at his shoes, tapping them against the ground, clearly nervous.
“I suppose that leaves an opening for you to be their favorite instead.”
Gilbert chuckles through his nose, shoulders releasing some of the tension they are holding, and Anne finds victory in the smooth line of his relaxed jaw. Finally, she lets herself reach out to trace the lines of his smooth face, her heart beating quickly in her chest. Gilbert stares at her, seeming quite at his leisure until his face falls slightly.
“Anne,” he says, voice strained, “you know that I… I.” His Adam’s Apple bobs in his throat and she wants so badly to put him out of his misery, but the fear of misinterpreting what he’s trying to say causes her to hold her tongue. “I don’t want to cause you any alarm.”
She laughs. “Alright?”
“But I want those things… with you.”
It lands between them, swelling there as Anne considers it, the implications, the pathways that have become unhampered by weeds.
“You do.” Her voice cracks when she says it, and she suddenly feels very young, dwarfed by the enormity of his certainty.
“For a long time,” Gilbert says, looking away from her. She wonders if he’s embarrassed, but he needn’t be. She should be the embarrassed one, for taking so long to realize that he was the one she’s been running towards all along. “And I know that it’s too soon to make decisions such as these, and it feels like we just left for college, and I have so many years of medical school left but I… I just wanted to be sure that my intentions are clear.”
“You wanted to make sure we were on the same p-a-g-e,” she teases, unable to help herself even though her throat is dry and her heart is soaring. She is experiencing a multitude of emotions simultaneously, and to Anne, the only way to handle that seems to be not handling it at all. In a meager attempt to get herself under control, she smoothes her dress down against her knees and inhales, exhales slowly before speaking. “Gilbert, I… I feel as though I’ve only just found my footing in who I am, and a part of me feels selfish to even contemplate dragging you into the mess that is… me.” He tenses, so she places her hand gently on his arm. “But one thing I know for sure and certain is that I do want those things with you. And I promise that’s not going to change.”
When he cracks a smile, brilliant against the light of the stars, Anne darts forward to press her lips against his. Gilbert beams at her for a moment when she pulls back, then shakes his head and moves forward again, cupping her chin as he leads her back to him.
They don’t kiss very often, as it’s difficult to get away from chaperones and nosy neighbors and her well meaning and beloved roommates. But when they do, it’s as right as it possibly can be, singing its way through her body as she discovers him for the first time all over again. The sensory memory that she associates with kissing Gilbert will go away someday, she’s sure, but for now it brings about memories of that day, one of the happiest days of her life, the day she knew that they would find their place somehow, even if that place ended up being right back here in Avonlea.
A thump from inside causes them to break apart, and Anne turns around to see Bash standing at the window, twiddling his fingers at them. Her cheeks reddening, she ducks her face into Gilbert’s shouder, allowing him to wrap an arm around her waist and pull her closer. When he kisses the crown of her head, the heat of embarrassment vanishes, and Anne settles more comfortably into him, resting her head on his shoulder and feeling for all the world like she could stay right here for the remainder of her life. Like perhaps her future is on this front stoop with Gilbert’s arm around her, watching the world pass them by.
“Oh!” she says suddenly, bolding upright. Gilbert looks at her, puzzled, as Anne begins to laugh. “The take notice board.”
“Oh,” he replies, cringing. “What about it?”
“I thought… I thought maybe you were talking about me, but I couldn’t be certain, and it… it made me want you to be talking about me, and I’ve just realized that I was right.”
“The first in a long line of misunderstandings.”
Gilbert’s tone is steady in its humor, but Anne can’t help feeling terrible about it.
“I was so quick to stop you,” she says, forehead crinkling. “How is it that I’m so passionate about reading about romance but didn’t see you coming at all?”
“Most likely because our first meeting ended with you slapping me across the face with a slate,” Gilbert muses mildly, causing Anne to dig her elbow into his side.
“If this is going to work, you’ll have to stop bringing that up at one point.”
“I’ll do no such thing.”
He’s impish as he looks at her and it’s one of those moments where Anne thinks she is seeing the boy he could have been without so much tragedy in his life. Most of the time, she notices it when he is joking around with Bash or chatting with the other boys at school or studying her expression as she pushes some of his hair out of his eyes. But here, teasing her, he seems to bear that same air, even while her stomach churns with guilt.
“I’m actually glad you didn’t post on the board,” admits Anne. “I don’t know what would have happened if you were so direct.”
“Thought you said it wasn’t direct enough to be alarming?” he jokes.
“That statement didn’t take into account how skittish I’d be.”
He runs a hand through his hair, a little disbelieving, and she can’t tell if it’s because they’re here now or if it is because they were there once.
“I probably should have guessed you wouldn’t be so forward, even if you had known you liked me.”
“I wish I could have been.”
He raises one shoulder like it’s nothing.
“We’d probably have lost fewer letters to the process.”
“Might have been able to make eye contact with each other after dance practice,” adds Anne.
“Maybe I wouldn’t have had to ask you if you had feelings for me while you were drunk?”
“And in that case, I probably wouldn’t have told you to marry someone else.”
Her laughter dies as soon as she says it, and oh, now it’s strange, it’s strange to acknowledge the fact that he would have been married by now if he didn’t love her. The path that he had chosen, the path with Anne, is so abruptly altered from the one that he had been walking towards. She has school to finish, she wants to teach, she wants to see so much more of the world. But Gilbert would have had a wife already, and an apartment in Paris, and maybe Winifred would have been willing to start a family with him right away, and she feels that they are just getting started but marriage is something that people do when they know, isn’t it, and Anne doesn’t know anything at this minute, much less when she wants to willingly walk into something that is forever.
Gilbert clears his throat. Looks down at his hands. Waits a few moments before he speaks.
“I didn’t want to marry her.” He looks back up at her, the unspoken words in his eyes. She nods, permitting him to move forward. “I don’t want to marry anyone who isn’t you.”
It should be hard, to say what she has to say, because she isn’t ready yet and she’s too young and, besides, this is new, all of it, they haven’t even gotten to live in the same town since they’d begun courting.
But what is all this joy for, if not to prolong and extend it into the future, until it is only theirs to hold?
“I want to marry you too,” she says, stumbling over it. When she turns to him, her braid slides over her shoulder, tickling Gilbert’s arm. “Someday, I want that.”
He reaches out and runs his fingers down her braid slowly, as though ensuring that it is indeed her and this is in fact real. When he reaches the ribbon tied off at the end, he gently tugs on her hair, letting her know that he’d heard her. Anne searches his face. Only then does she realize that she has made Gilbert Blythe speechless.
She stands up and offers her hands to him, which he wordlessly takes. He rises to meet her, following her into the grass towards Delly, who has been pulling up pieces of grass and throwing them into the sky, giggling when they rain around her face. Anne lifts her up and plants a wet kiss on her cheek, which makes Delly giggle, and when Anne looks over her shoulder at Gilbert, at the way he’s staring at the two of them, she picks up her definition of home and rewrites it all over again.
Gilbert hasn’t been in a house this big in his entire life.
Winifred’s home had been full of fine things, more rooms than he’d ever had access to, and the Barrys’ home hadn’t looked much different. But Diana’s Aunt Josephine’s house is, in a word, grand. He’s never seen anything like it before-- his entire house could fit in the room they’re in, most likely with space to move. There are lights everywhere, even chandeliers, and the room that he’d dropped his case into is filled with vases and ornaments despite the fact that it isn’t normally occupied by anyone.
It occurs to Gilbert, as he sits ramrod straight in a sea of chairs, that he isn’t accustomed to feeling out of place anywhere. He tends to walk from room to room without much thought of who he walks among, but now, looking around at the men in baubles and women in suits, he finds himself wondering if he belongs at this party in the first place.
Anne does. She’s watching the pianist play while all Gilbert can do is watch Anne. She’s got her elbows on her knees, leaning forward with her chin in her hands. She’s woven flowers into her hair, orange and yellow and white, making a crown around her head. He can’t help but notice the array of buttons that fall down her back amid strands of fiery red hair, and when he finds himself wanting to reach out and touch one, he snaps his attention back to the pianist before he moves, reminding himself of propriety.
He’d been invited here to experience this party with Anne, not to distract her from enjoying it herself.
Even so, as the entire room leaps to their feet and begins applauding the pianist, Gilbert can’t help but feel that he sticks out like a sore thumb in his dark, simple clothes. Even though Anne had told him that it was a spring party, he had shown up in his nicest things, mainly because on a farm he would wear dark colors year-round so that he didn’t muddy up his clothes. Between her light dress, crown of flowers, and the hair flowing freely down her back, Anne fits in seamlessly with the crowd. Gilbert, however, feels like he’d be more comfortable if he found his way to a wall and stayed there.
Perhaps Anne notices this, because as soon as everyone finishes pushing the chairs away, she hooks her arm around Gilbert’s and begins pulling him towards the drink table.
“Come on,” she says cheerily. “I have to introduce you to everyone!”
“Most people here think she’s made you up,” interjects Cole, approaching them with a wide smile. He’s got flowers in his hair and a string of pearls around his neck, and Gilbert has never seen him so at ease before. He sticks his hand out to shake Cole’s heartily.
“It’s good to see you,” he says, meaning it, making both Anne and Cole beam.
“Thank you,” replies Cole. “And my visage is made all the better by Anne’s flower crown.”
He gestures to his hair, tilting his head to the side and lifting a shoulder towards his ear.
“You look wonderful,” Anne promises, and Gilbert only feels a small sting of jealousy, really, because she’d invited him here and when he’d arrived at the house earlier today, she’d snuck him into an unoccupied hallway and had wrapped her arms around him so tightly that he hadn’t been able to breathe. He’s going to carry that embrace with him for weeks, he thinks. “Speaking of which.”
She takes Gilbert’s elbow again and guides him through the crowd, steering them right to the table laden with all sorts of decadent food. Several people stop to say hello to Anne along the way, inquiring after her studies and asking whether she’s going to perform like she did the last two years.
“Perform?” Gilbert asks as they walk away from the second person— a tall gentleman who towered over the both of them and was all the more terrifying for the pale white clown make up he had on his face.
“I read a passage from Jane Eyre every year,” Anne explains, finally reaching the drink table. He expects her to go for the food, but instead Anne drops to the ground and lifts up the pink tablecloth, feeling the ground underneath until she rises victoriously, a flower crown in hand. “I made this for you. In case… in case you wanted to wear one.”
Gilbert looks around at everyone else. Back at the University of Toronto, or back in Avonlea, he would have been laughed at for wearing a crown of flowers that Anne had made him. But no one here truly seems to care what the others are wearing, and Anne has woven white and orange and purple together so carefully that he cannot imagine saying no to her and her hopeful eyes.
“Could you… put it on for me?”
When he bends forward slightly, almost bowing to her, Anne carefully places the crown atop his head, centering it fussily once he’s straightened back up.
“Oh,” Anne says on an exhale, looking at him with her hand near her mouth. “You look—“
“Ridiculous?” supplies Gilbert, trying to lean into his discomfort.
Anne’s response is soft.
“Beautiful,” she says instead, reaching up to adjust the crown one more time. “You look beautiful.”
She finds beauty in so much, but Gilbert had never once considered himself to be one of those things. It occurs to him that if Anne cares for him, she must think him handsome in some way. But he hasn’t thought about himself with all the intensity that she weighs upon the concept of beauty; how sacred it is to her; how much she savors it. She finds everything beautiful, yet every beautiful thing is still special to her, and he is one of those things now.
Anne stares at Gilbert, Gilbert stares at Anne. He feels like a schoolchild again as they meet each other’s gaze. This time, Anne’s gentle expression is too much for him, and Gilbert is the one who breaks away, nodding his head resolutely, trying to find something to say.
“So the Jane Eyre reading,” he says, ushering her to the side of the table so that they are no longer blocking hands seeking strawberries and chocolates. “How did that begin?”
“Oh, Gertrude used to do it every year,” Anne says distractedly, waving at a man across the room who is dressed as a sunflower.
“Aunt Josephine’s wife,” she explains like it’s obvious, like it’s something that he had known all along.
It takes his brain several moments to snap together the pieces of what she’d said.
“Anne,” he says hesitantly, “did you just say—?”
Her eyes widen as it suddenly dawns on her. She reaches over to the table to shove a strawberry into her mouth, clearly buying herself time.
“Look!” she says around the fruit, “there’s Diana!”
A second later, she’s whizzing across the room, her dress trailing behind her, Gilbert following her in utter bemusement. He has read about it in his studies, of course, about people who prefer the company of their own sex. But his textbooks had been filled with discussion of their insanity, of their illness, questions of whether they were contagious and how to set them right. None of the people here, however, are in asylums. Yet none of them appear to be hiding who they are from anyone else. And certainly, none of them seem to be mad. They seem like normal people who are living their lives.
It goes against everything his studies have taught him, creating an unsettling lump in his stomach. He is not accustomed to vast discrepancies from his books.
Diana is standing chatting with the pianist, who is discussing her travels to far and wide places, and Gilbert is so fascinated that he allows himself to be distracted from the questions that have bubbled up in his mind. He bites back his inquiries, settles his hand on Anne’s back, and listens to stories of countries he will never be able to visit. By the time the pianist is walking away, he understands why Anne had wanted him to come to the party. She loves it for the same reason he doesn’t want to be a country doctor, didn’t want to attend Queens, didn’t want to marry Winifred-- there is more to the world than their small, gated corner. There is more of life than the way they’d grown up.
And yet, when he looks at Anne, all he wants is to keep that life with her.
She introduces him to people as the party swells and buzzes with conversation, occasionally turning around to smile at him so wide that it makes the constellations of her freckles contort on her cheeks. By the time Aunt Josephine stands up in front of the crowd to speak, Gilbert finds himself almost talked out, glad when Anne pulls him to the front of the crowd and tucks herself as close to him as is proper, hiding their intertwined hands in the fabric of her skirt.
Aunt Josephine stands before the crowd, Cole placing himself just behind her, looking like a proud guard dog in his position, puffed-out chest and all. Gilbert hasn’t had much time to speak with the woman yet, just long enough for her to tell him that he, too, could call her Aunt Josephine because “Anne does and as you two are practically family, it makes no sense for you to get out of it.” Standing tall in front of the crowd, the only person in dark colors, he finds that she is older than he would have thought. She looks out at the lot of them, her hand over her heart as if she is trying to keep it from cracking.
“My friends,” says Aunt Josephine, then pauses. “My family.” She smiles at that, content. “I had thought, quite mistakenly, that it would become easier over time. To hold soirees such as these once more. To make speeches such as this one without my Gertrude standing in the crowd raising her glass to me. I confess that I had tricked myself into believing that grief might age as I did, becoming dull in the passage of time. But now, inevitably, I have come to the realization that one does not simply adjust when the world lacks the color it used to. Instead, you will always long for the hues that are missing, the hues that Gertrude herself brought into my life. And tonight, with your presence in my home, you have brought some of them back, if only for a moment.”
Anne squeezes Gilbert’s hand, hard. He finds that she has tears in her eyes and, not for the first time, is awed by her capacity for empathy. So he squeezes her hand in response, hoping that she can feel how much he means it in the warmth of his palm against hers.
“To Gertrude,” Aunt Josephine says, raising her glass towards the sky, “and to you,” she adds, lowering her arm so that her glass is gesturing towards the group. “For your brightness.”
Gilbert sips from his cup, notices that Anne doesn’t have one, and offers it to her. She takes it, raising it to her lips, and when she hands it back he feels with searing certainty that nothing could go wrong ever again.
“And now,” continues Aunt Josephine, “as has become one of our most cherished traditions, I invite our beautiful, brilliant, beloved Anne Shirley Cuthburt up to claim her stage.”
The room fills with clapping, cheering, and stomping as Anne walks away from Gilbert and steps onto the landing next to Aunt Josephine, kissing her briefly on the cheek and taking a book out of Cole’s hands before turning back to her captive audience. She hugs the book to her chest and exhales with a smile before opening the page and removing the marker that she’d set for herself.
“‘I had not intended to love him,’” Anne says. “‘The reader knows I had wrought hard to extirpate from my soul the germs of love there detected; and now, at the first renewed view of him, they spontaneously revived, great and strong! He made me love him without looking at me.’”
It’s the night at the bonfire all over again. It’s Anne spinning around, her hair glowing like she’s an angel, burning a fire through his veins, offering him the strength he had needed to speak to her. He watches her, a captive audience just as he was that night, his awe evoking memories of spelling bees and barn dances and the moment just a few months ago when they had become caught in the rain on a walk together.
“‘I thought: ‘he is not of their kind. I believe he is of mine;—I am sure he is—I feel akin to him—I understand the language of his countenance and movements: though rank and wealth sever us widely, I have something in my brain and heart, in my blood and nerves, that assimilates me mentally to him.’”
She is theatrical in her delivery, to be certain, but there is an edge of truth to it that breaks his heart and patches it up again. As Anne moves through the story, he watches her feel the words in her soul and he feels them in his too. Her face is lit up, her diction clear, but the simple note of rawness in her tone grounds her words to reality.
As she is nearing the end of the passage, she is able to look up from the book more, becoming comfortable in the well-practiced words. Her eyes dance around the room to the rhythm of her speech, meeting the eyes of friends and strangers alike, brave in a way that Gilbert will never be.
Finally, her eyes settle on him, unwavering as she quietly recites the final lines, tracing them carefully against her lips.
“‘And yet, while I breathe and think, I must love him.’”
A burst of applause makes both of them jump in surprise. Only then does Anne look away from Gilbert, laughing delightedly at the enthusiasm of the crowd. She snaps the book shut and skips down the steps towards Gilbert as someone begins to play the piano and the crowd moves en masse into the more spacious room to begin dancing.
She stands before him, her face bright with joy, her flower crown slightly askew. He wants everything, but he can only have some things, so he clears his throat and says, “Anne. Would you like to dance with me?”
They set her book and his cup down on a table and find a spot at the edge of the crowd. She places her hand in his, and her other hand flat near his shoulder, almost over his heart. It’s not the correct stance, but Gilbert doesn’t care, especially when he places his hand low on her back and can feel her hair tickling his skin. They begin to move, Anne most certainly leading, which causes them to break out into laughter when they realize it simultaneously. He twirls her and she spins back closer and it’s the best moment of the night, her hand finding his chest, her face glowing in the candlelit room. The room could be empty, for all he knows, because all he sees is Anne.
The only one he’s ever seen, truthfully, is Anne.
After they all say goodnight, Gilbert finds the silence of his assigned room oddly calming. Between his travels and the event, the day has been overwhelming to say the least. He’s glad to find himself in solitude, even if it’s in a big house like this one. He changes his clothes, back into his white long-sleeved undershirt and the trousers he would wear at home this time of year, and pulls a textbook out of his case with the intent of spending at least an hour studying before bed.
When a knock comes at his door fifteen minutes later, he thinks it’s a mistake.
It’s a timid tap at first, like the person isn’t certain they’re at the correct door. Seeing as none of the servants in the building would have any business coming near his room, Gilbert decides to let it go until the knock sounds again, this time more of an annoyed rap, full of energy.
He cautiously sets his feet on the floor and walks over to turn the doorknob, unsurprised (yet, to be frank, completely surprised) to see Anne on the other side. She’s standing in front of him in a long white shift that he immediately realizes is her nightdress. The blue robe she’s wearing does little to protect her against the cold of an evening in a large house. Gilbert’s first instinct should be to get her a blanket, but he can’t bring himself to move. He blinks at her instead, at the long braid in her hair and the anxious look on her face, almost afraid to move for fear of the two of them getting in trouble.
“Good evening,” he manages to say, and that’s all it takes to set Anne off.
“I wanted to make sure that you weren’t… confused. After everything today.”
It takes a moment for him to understand what she’s talking about, and when he does, he opens the door wider, allowing her to come into the room. Anne goes to stand by the fireplace, backlit by orange and yellow and red as she peers across the room at him.
“I--” he begins, but she cuts him off.
“I know you were surprised, and I’m sorry if I did the wrong thing, but I just didn’t think it was necessary to tell you ahead of time, and then I saw the expression you had when I said it and… and I realized I may have made a mistake. Did I? I mean you know that I’m always willing to apologize for my wrongdoing, but I want you to know that if there is anything to apologize for, I won’t apologize for caring about these people, only for not telling you ahead of time, because I understand that perhaps--”
“Anne.” This time he’s the one who cuts her off, trying to keep his voice as gentle as he can, and still she snaps her mouth shut as though the fire has burned her hand. “I’m… trying to understand it, is all.”
He sits heavily down onto the bed, his hands on his knees as he attempts to figure out how to frame the words he needs. Across the room, Anne sinks onto the settee in front of the fireplace, staring up at him.
“Understand what?” she says, voice small.
“My… my research, my studies, have all indicated that people… with such inclinations… are deviants. But none of the people here tonight appeared that way. I’ve always trusted research, trusted science, but there’s unimpeachable empirical evidence in front of me that these people are not bad people.” He pauses, feeling far too seen with her gaze on him like this. “It’s… something to take in, is all.”
Anne exhales heavily, leaning forward to rest her hand on her chin. It’s the same position she’d been sitting in earlier tonight when they had been watching the pianist, but now it bears weight, rather than eagerness. It makes his heart sink that he’s the one who put it there.
Give me time, he thinks, but he doesn’t know how to say it because he doesn’t know if it’s the truth. It’s almost the worst part of this. That he is not positive he will ever come to a point where he’s no longer disappointing her.
His Anne, however, doesn’t linger in disappointment for long. She rises, squares her shoulders, and steps forward so that he can see the serious expression on her face.
“You love me,” she says. It’s not a question but he nods anyway, mesmerized by a vision in a white nightdress bringing the heat of the fire closer to him. “How is that love any different from the one they have for each other?”
“Because…” he begins, then trails off. There’s no scientific answer aside from the obvious one, and he already knows Anne’s counter argument to that. She’d say that feelings are not science, they are experience and intellect and something indefinable. He agrees with her because his feelings for her are all the evidence he needs. “I don’t know, Anne-girl,” he says finally. “Sometimes I don’t think anybody has ever loved someone as much as I love you.”
“As I love you,” she corrects, making him grin. “But that’s just it, isn’t it? Out of every single soul in the world, we could love any one of them, and we choose to love each other. Doesn’t that make it… bigger, somehow?”
Gilbert takes Anne’s hand, flattening the length of it over his so that he can trace lines across her palm. It helps him concentrate to be able to focus on her skin, like he’s in a classroom taking notes.
“Aunt Josephine seemed to really miss Gertru-- her wife.”
He tests it out, more for himself than for her, but it causes a relieved smile to wash over Anne’s face.
“And one day,” she begins, moving in to him, “when we are married, we will have a life just as happy as theirs was.”
He wraps his arms around her body, holding her even closer than they had been when they were dancing. Her words rip into him, and Gilbert can’t help but place his chin on top of her head as she snuggles closer, tucked into his neck. He wonders if she notices it too, how it feels different to be pressed together like this when she isn’t wearing a corset. She is soft against him, and with his hand running up and down her barely-covered back, she feels so vulnerable that all he wants to do is take care of her.
“In a little house on a hill,” he decides. “With a fireplace as big as this one. And a cat.”
Anne looks up.
“What if I wanted a dog?”
“We can have a dog too.”
“Settled,” she agrees, returning to their previous position. “And nothing that we have will be lessened by anything anyone else has.”
“How could it be, when ours is the best?” he teases.
When she kisses him, Gilbert feels like he is holding his world against his body.
“I don’t want to leave yet,” Anne whispers, sliding her hands down his arms. They brush his forearms, where he has his shirt sleeves pushed up, then trail along his wrists, and finally she intertwines their fingers, leaning back so that she can look at him.
“So stay,” says Gilbert, the words leaving him almost of their own volition. They’re the right words, though. They make Anne nod and come to sit on the bed next to him, moving backwards until she’s lined up with the pillow on her back. Gilbert gingerly settles next to her, on his side, and places his hand on the pillow that Anne’s head is on, wanting to be connected to her somehow.
“This is going to be our life someday,” she says. It’s decisive, yet the words sound sacred coming out of her mouth. They don’t talk about it much, their future, and when they do Gilbert is almost afraid to move for fear that she will tug it away.
He’s calm and sleepy when he says, “Anytime you want.”
That makes her happy, and she turns towards him in the bed, flipping his hand around so that she can stare at his ringless fingers. She brushes her thumb down his ring finger, then links their pinkies together, suddenly looking very grave.
“I do solemnly swear,” she says.
“You swear to what?” Gilbert asks, raising his eyebrows.
“I don’t know. All of it.”
He chuckles, taking the chance to lean forward and kiss the top of her eyebrow.
“Did I ever tell you how my father proposed to my mother?”
They talk until their voices are hoarse. He falls asleep next to her for the first time in his life, knowing that it won’t be the last.
After breakfast, the first thing Anne does is throw open the window in Diana’s bedroom. She leans her head all the way out and moments later finds her best friend squeezing in the window next to her, her eyes closed as she inhales the sweet spring air.
“Isn’t it the most wonderful day for a wedding?” Anne says. “We could go out and pick wildflowers for your bouquet if you wanted.”
Pulling back from the window, Diana walks over to her dressing table and sits down on the elegant stool in front of it, gazing at her reflection in the mirror.
“We both know very well that my mother would have a fit if I were to add more flowers than the ones she’s picked from her garden,” she says sensibly. “And, besides, we have enough to do here, don’t we?”
At that, Anne looks over at the large white dress which hangs over the thick pine door of Diana’s. Despite how tiny Diana is, the dress seems to take up a vast amount of space in her bedroom and has for several weeks now. It seems odd to think that, after this, it will be tucked away in a chest and never worn again. Anne aches to think of how long it must have taken for the tiny little bows and bits of lace to be added to the ivory colored satin.
“I do wish I had the patience to create something this beautiful,” she says softly. Diana follows her gaze and turns around to face the dress.
“I get nervous each time I look at it,” she admits, twisting her hands together in front of herself. “Do you think Fred will like it?”
“I think that if Fred didn’t like it, he’d be the biggest fool in Avonlea,” responds Anne with passion, which only serves to make Diana giggle, color rising to her pale cheeks.
“Diana?” Mrs. Barry sticks her head into the room, her eyes alit with joy. Anne wonders if Marilla will look so happy on her wedding day, when it eventually happens. “Would you like me to do your hair now?”
“Yes, thank you, mother.”
“Would you give us just a moment, Anne?”
“Of course,” Anne replies, and she kisses Diana on the cheek before skipping out of the room and heading outside.
The Barrys have a luxuriously green front yard, vast and grand before their house. Now that Diana will no longer be living with her parents, Anne finds herself regretting not taking advantage of the garden here more often. They could have had the loveliest teas here; could have taken off their shoes and stockings and pretended to be fairies in summer evenings. She hasn’t had the yearning to do such a thing for a long time now, but today feels like the last chance she might ever have to hold onto those fine tendrils of childhood. She rushes against the warm wind to sit beneath the largest tree in the yard, willing herself to feel small and young underneath it. She can’t feel the bark of the tree over the thick bones of her corset, a small mercy, so she makes herself busy plucking flowers from the ground, arranging the petals to form the date of the happiest day of Diana’s life.
17 May 1903.
Anne settles back and looks at her work when it’s done, wishing she could frame it or bring it inside with her. She stares at the lovely arrangement until a particularly soft breeze blows it away, scattering the petals across the grass. It’s wrenching for a few heartbeats, watching all of it fly away and knowing that none of it will ever come back.
But when she looks up, Minnie May is dashing across the grass towards her, waving her back inside. She’s already in her finest dress for the wedding, so Anne rises to catch up with her before she falls and stains her pristine white stockings.
“Is Diana’s hair done?” she asks. Minnie May nods before leading her back towards the house.
“Mother wouldn’t let me into the room while she did Diana’s hair,” she reveals, irked. “I think she’s sad.”
“I’m sure she is,” Anne agrees mildly. “Are you sad?”
“No,” says Minnie May stubbornly. “Diana hogs the piano.”
“Now that she’s living down the street, maybe you’ll become as talented as she is.”
“Better than she is,” decides Minnie May, a glint in her eye when she looks up at Anne. “A thousand times better.”
They climb the stairs two at a time, crossing the threshold of Diana’s bedroom to find her seated on the bed wearing an elegant updo and a flat expression.
“What’s the matter?” asks Anne, noting the cheeks that are even rosier than they had been when she had left the room.
“You’ll understand when you’re married,” Diana says, casting her eyes pointedly towards Minnie May. Anne nods in understanding before she turns back to the little girl.
“Minnie May, could you fetch Diana’s corset for her? It’s in the chest over there.”
Gently, Anne squeezes Diana’s shoulder as she walks behind her to survey the beautifully done updo that Mrs. Barry had created. She wants one like it when she gets married, but she’s decided that she wants loose curls framing her face on either side, like a sketch she had seen in The Delineator magazine once.
It’s odd to think about when and not if, and it is stranger still to realize that she’s been keeping plans for her wedding filed away in the back of her head. But seeing Diana’s pale skin and bright eyes, so similar to the girl she had been when they had first met, makes Anne understand more clearly than ever that life is moving forward even if she still feels like a child most of the time. When she walks into her darling schoolroom every morning, it takes a moment for her to remember to walk up to the front of the room rather than seek out her friends to gossip and laugh before class begins.
They help Diana into her corset, lace it up with the expertise that comes with time, and place her ruffled corset cover over her head. Minnie May ties the small roll around her waist too loose and too high, so when she turns around Anne fixes it, wiggling the pillow downward and double knotting it. Once they’ve gotten her into a petticoat and her hand-embroidered silk stockings, the three of them finally turn to the dress.
Anne takes her task of fastening each covered button with great importance. They trail all the way up to the nape of Diana’s neck, where the buttons keep the collar tight against her throat. When Minnie May helps guide Diana’s hands through tight sleeves, she seems to understand the seriousness of the task. They both fuss over the train and Anne takes the time to pluck at the puffed sleeves at the tops of Diana’s shoulders.
By the time Anne steps back to make certain everything is correct, Diana is standing before her looking for all the world like a woman. Anne has never seen her so elegant, so stately, with her chin lifted proudly and her lips curved slightly up, waiting on their opinions.
“Oh my dearest Diana,” sighs Anne, who has immediately found herself welling up despite her best efforts not to. “There has never in the history of the world been a more beautiful bride than you are, nor will there ever will be.”
“Anne, you’re too kind,” Diana says, but she flushes happily, smoothing down her skirt before she glances at herself in the mirror. “I feel like a princess.”
Minnie May sounds awed when she says “you look like a princess,” which is all Anne needs to truly begin to cry. Diana opens her arms and she rushes into them for the second time that morning. With a squeal, Minnie May joins them, refusing to be left out, and that’s how Diana’s mother finds the three of them when she comes up to remind them of the time.
After that, it’s a rush of Anne attempting to fix her hair, hurrying into her best Easter dress, and then carefully holding onto Diana’s train as she descends the staircase. The four of them-- Anne, Diana, Minnie May, and Mrs. Barry-- pile into the carriage and are halfway to the church before Minnie May realizes that she had forgotten the basket of flower petals she is supposed to be scattering, which also contains Diana’s bouquet. They turn around and go all the way back to the Barrys’, inevitably late after that. Diana gets anxious, jiggling her leg as her mother stares out the window determinedly. All Anne can think to do is to take Diana’s hand in hers and hang on tight, holding onto the last few moments where it is just the two of them, kindred spirits, brides of adventure and nothing (no one) else.
Diana’s leg has stopped bouncing up by the time they reach the church, and it’s with a sigh of relief that they all spill out of the carriage.
“Wait!” Mrs. Barry calls as they rush in. When they turn around, she is holding out the nearly floor-length veil from her own wedding.
“Minnie May is putting it on me,” Diana says, glancing down at her little sister. “It’ll be hers one day.”
She sinks to the ground, satin skirt billowing elegantly around her as she smiles at Minnie May. The little girl stands in front of Diana and delicately places the tulle veil atop her head while Mrs. Barry stands behind her and arranges it so that it isn’t bunched together.
“Per-fect,” Minnie May pronounces, and that’s when Diana reaches forward and grabs her sister around the middle, pulling her into a tight hug.
“Diana, your dress!” Mrs. Barry protests, but Diana ignores her, holding onto her squirming sibling.
“I love you,” she says, eyes squeezed tightly shut.
“I know that,” Minnie May says, pushing her off. It occurs to Anne that she may not know how different it will be when Diana is running her own household-- someday soon, she’ll have children of her own. Following that, things will never be the same again.
Nothing will ever be the same regardless.
It’ll hurt for Minnie May later, Anne knows, but then, at her age Anne had been certain that the most important thing in the world was changing her name to Cordelia. She’s grown up. She’s changed. And a huge part of who she has become is a credit to Diana’s positive influence.
The lump in her throat prevents Anne from communicating such things. Instead, she straightens the wedding dress one last time before grasping both of her dearest Diana’s hands in hers and leaning forward to give her a kiss on the cheek.
“Such good luck,” she whispers. Diana smiles tearily as Anne pulls away and opens the door to the church. She blows Diana one last kiss before shutting the door behind herself and hurrying up the aisle to find Mr. Barry, who appears to be trapped in a lengthy conversation with an overeager Mrs. Lynde as she praises him for finding Diana such an appropriate match. Fred stands just over his shoulder, hands clasped in front of him, staring up the aisle from which Anne had just emerged as though he is trying to get a glimpse of his bride through the thick oak doors.
She strides down the aisle with purpose, holding onto her hat as she goes, and waves at Mr. Barry when she approaches.
“Anne!” he says gleefully, most likely thrilled to be relieved of all Mrs. Lynde-related obligations. “Is Diana ready?”
“She is,” Anne responds. “She’s waiting for you.”
He hustles up the aisle faster than Anne has ever seen him walk. She exchanges a fond smile with a very antsy Fred before whirling around to locate her own cohort and finding herself eye-to-eye with none other than Gilbert Blythe.
“Hi,” she breathes in surprise.
“Hullo,” he replies, amused. “Marilla was worried you might not be able to see us. She asked me to come get you.”
Anne clears her throat.
“Yes,” she says. “Thank you.”
He looks incredibly handsome today, the bright morning sun seeming to tousle his neatly combed hair. He’s got on his nicest jacket, collar stiff from ironing, and he’s gazing at her with the mischievous look in his eyes which tells her that he never wants to stop.
“We should sit down before we get run over by Diana,” murmurs Gilbert, squinting one eye against the sun as he tilts his head. She nods resolutely, allowing him to lead her back to their family.
Per Anne’s previous instruction, they have commandeered seats in the second row, just behind the Barry family’s pew. Marilla sits next to Matthew, who sits next to Bash, who grins at Anne like she’s just returned from a treacherous voyage as opposed to being someone who comes over for dinner more than once a week, even when Gilbert is at school. She knows he likes seeing the two of them together-- likes holding it over Gilbert’s head, how he saw it coming from miles away, and at this point neither of them is embarrassed anymore.
They found each other. That’s what matters.
Gilbert moves aside to let Anne slide in first, but she shakes her head, wanting to be the last one in the row so that her view of Diana getting married isn’t obstructed by anyone. He settles in next to Bash and leaves his hand on the seat of the pew next to him, nudging her pinky with his to let her know that he’s there for her if she needs him.
Strangely, Anne thinks that Gilbert is one of the only people in this room who could understand her sadness. On their long walks up and down Lover’s Lane and through the Enchanted Forest, she’s attempted to explain it to him and has come up at a loss. It is about losing something and gaining something simultaneously; it is about inevitability and choice; most importantly, it is about change rushing in like a strong wind, blowing you onto a different course, and you simply have to hope that it is the right one. It is about a million things that are indefinable to her, but Gilbert is next to her, accepting her, offering his comfort, and for once Anne thinks that maybe she doesn’t need words to make him understand her. He just does, because he does.
It’s simple when she thinks of it that way.
The organ fills the room with sound, the back doors open, Minnie May prances down the aisle towards the spot where she will stand behind Diana, tossing petals in her wake. Then Diana has entered and they’re all standing as she emerges into their presence like a ray of sunshine, more lovely than she has ever looked before. Her father walks jauntily next to her, pride gleaming in his eyes, and when Anne swings around to look at Fred’s face, she sees with satisfaction that he looks as jubilant as any groom ever has.
All of it is exactly the wedding that Diana Barry deserves.
There is a magic to this church, Anne decides as they all take their seats. Diana was christened in this building, as was Gilbert, as were Matthew and Marilla and Michael. Before that, Matthew and Marilla’s parents had been married on these grounds, as had Mr. and Mrs. Lynde, as had Diana’s parents. Anne can feel how sacred this place is in the very tips of her toes. It has more history than any of them have ever seen. It is, she has come to realize, the hallowed hall that all of Avonlea has in common. It binds their community together just as it binds people’s lives, and now Diana is continuing that glorious legacy.
Anne sits back down in the pew and watches her kindred spirit bosom friend as Fred lifts the veil off of her and smiles. She thinks of the first time she met Diana, how she had never dreamed that one day she would be helping her get ready for her wedding. She thinks of each fight they’ve had, each time they’ve made up, and each evening they had spent giggling into their pillows at Queens College. And as the preacher’s withering voice rings out through the small room, she allows the colors of her memories to turn golden, sealing and consecrating them in the altar of her mind.
Something sacred ends and something sacred begins. It is time to finally accept this change for what it is.
Still, she feels an ache in her chest and reaches out for Gilbert, who wordlessly wraps his fingers around her wrist to let her know that he’s there. He’s tender with her, enough for her to let him in, so that some of Anne’s sadness leaves room for the love she feels for so many of the people she stands among. As Diana and Fred say their vows, Gilbert gently rubs his thumb up and down the veins on the inside of her forearm, pausing occasionally to rest against her rapidly beating pulse.
They are gathered here today to stumble into each other’s lives and leave them more cluttered, messier, better, than they had been before.
She doesn’t want to leave Diana’s life or to become an artifact of what once was. She wants to remain within the lines of her future, a kindred spirit forever and for always.
And so, Anne decides, she will.
After that, nothing seems as terrifying anymore.
Of all the songs to dance to at Diana’s wedding reception, Anne is not expecting Dashing White Sergeant.
It’s dusk when Moody pulls out his banjo, Charlie reveals his fiddle, and the two of them begin to play music. The adults have long since retired, leaving the Avonlea children who had grown up together. They have been mingling with excited glints in their eyes all day, knowing what will happen when evening settles over the sky. Just a year ago, Anne had been dancing at Ruby’s and Moody’s wedding, and a few months before that watched Josie get married. Each time, they have gone back to the bride’s former home, had a pleasant meal with the adults, and waited eagerly for them to leave. Most of Fred’s childhood friends are clustered in their own group, but Tillie appears to have no problem reaching over to nab a dance partner,
They have been dancing for what feels like hours now, weaving through the square dances of their childhood, whirling through several sets of quadrilles, and laughing through a few clumsy attempts at a waltz. Jane’s voice has become hoarse after yelling out the calls for so long; Anne’s stomach aches from raucous laughter that she hasn’t been able to contain. She’s just collapsed into a chair and informed Cole that she is never again getting up when she hears the familiar plucking and looks over to see Diana standing next to Moody, her arms crossed over her chest, a smirk resting on her mouth.
“I can’t move,” complains Anne, but she springs out of her chair, holding her hand out to Gilbert.
He shakes his head at her, amazed.
“How do you have the energy?”
“You inspire me,” she replies lightly, wiggling her outstretched fingers. He takes them, dropping a kiss on her hand before they move across the grass to dance with the others.
The familiarity of it makes giggles bubble up in Anne’s chest. She spends most of the set silently communicating with Gilbert, who makes faces back at her in response, lightening quick to pick up on what she’s trying to tell him. His mouth twists upwards to the side, his hands behind his back, and he touches her cheek once when he passes her, silently noting the heat of her skin.
At the end of the dance, the music collapses into another waltz. Anne moves forward at the same time Gilbert reaches out to catch her around the waist and pull her in, not caring about the fact that they’re surrounded by their former classmates.
“How are you doing?” he asks as he folds her hand into his and begins swaying to the music. His eyebrows are tight across his forehead, as though her emotional state is the most concerning thing in his life at present.
She draws in a breath. No piece of her wants to linger on sadness anymore. The evening is so breathtakingly beautiful, a perfect example of what spring should be, and her heart is full of laughter and friends and the bliss of sore feet after a perfect day.
The new era has begun, and it begins in Gilbert’s arms, just as it should.
“I’m thinking... that our wedding could be even better than this one.”
“That was what I was assuming you were thinking about,” he teases.
“I mean, a string quartet? We’ll have a string quintet!”
“Three wedding cakes, of course.”
He twirls her out and twirls her back in even though it doesn’t go with the music. Some of Anne’s hair falls slightly, but she struggles to care when she’s this joyful.
“Three ice sculptures too.”
“And instead of having our celebration at a large house like this… we’ll have it at a bigger house.”
“With marble halls,” she says. “And… oh, I don’t know. Diamond sunbursts.”
He laughs, moving his hand around so that he can squeeze her waist.
“I wish I could give all that to you,” admits Gilbert quietly. Anne touches his cheek.
“It’ll be better because it’s ours,” she says, resolute in her words. “Even without all of that.”
“It will be better because you make everything better.”
He says it like a fact, no fuss or frills to it, and as much as Anne Shirley Cuthbert loves both of those things, she loves Gilbert’s simple honesties more. He never dodges around the point with her, always favoring words that are bare and bright.
Prior to their relationship, Gilbert had learned to step forward even when she hadn’t met him in the middle. He had never complained about it, nor does he now. Sometimes Anne feels like she reveals too much of herself to him when she writes pages upon pages of letters or rambles on about thoughts that she is unwilling to share with most people. But Gilbert has never made her feel like she couldn’t. For someone who had spent much of her life questioning her value, Anne is overwhelmingly grateful.
It occurs to her, dancing with him now, that perhaps she gives to him so that he can give to her, an endless loop of their habits and patterns that makes them who they are together. They are always going to have that current rippling between them. She’s determined to preserve it.
But despite that eagerness, there is a gnawing feeling in her gut each time they have offhand conversations about a future together. Anne recognizes it, but has refused to allow herself to linger on it long enough to give it a name. Now, though, among the loud music and quiet of her mind, it comes to her all in a rush.
It’s not just about childhood, as she has been fearing the whole time. It is the reality of another type of loss.
“I think I’m frightened,” Anne blurts out before she can stop herself, before she can think of some more eloquent way to say it. Now that she knows what’s been brewing within her, she doesn’t want to take her time with it.
“Okay,” Gilbert drawls, momentarily thrown off by the abrupt change in subject matter. He lifts his brows. “Care to elaborate?”
She anxiously presses her lips together, attempting to stem the flow of thoughts that threatens to bubble over her mind.
“I don’t know what I’m frightened of yet.”
He chuckles kindly.
“Why don’t you give it a go, Anne-girl?”
She looks over at Diana, standing at the corner of the yard with Fred, his arm around her waist. They’re chatting with Ruby, who lives on the opposite side of town from her parents now, who has told Anne that she doesn’t get to see her mother nearly as much as she’s used to, as keeping a household is an incredible amount of work, more than she’d ever realized even though it’s only two of them for now.
“I spent… my whole life… looking for a place to belong. For people to love me like Matthew and Marilla love me. For something that felt like a home, like Avonlea feels. Watching Diana walk away from her family today… oh, Gilbert, it feels like she’s starting all over again. Like she’s becoming a new person. And if I do that… well, how can I do that? Would it dishonor all the wonderful things that Matthew and Marilla have done for me? And I know, I know, that it’s the natural way of things, that everyone has to grow up, but if I could stay with Matthew and Marilla for the rest of their lives, it still wouldn’t be enough to thank them for all they’ve given me. They gave me food, clothes, education… they let me stay and that led me to Diana and Cole and the story club and you. And I can’t fathom doing what Diana did today, I just can’t, because she’s starting over for the first time, but I’d be doing it for the millionth!”
The stream of consciousness tips off of her tongue without anything to stop it. Anne claps her hand over her mouth in surprise, her eyes widening in an expression that she can only assume is comical. It’s then that she realizes that they have stopped dancing. Gilbert has been standing in front of her, hands clasped before him, nodding along as he knits his brows together and tries to follow her words as they spin circles around him.
With a frustrated groan, Anne grabs Gilbert’s hand and tugs him away from their dancing friends, leading him between a few patches of trees until they wind up standing near the Barrys’ stable. The horses are in for the night, heads poking out into the warm air. Anne determinedly marches up to Desdemona and rubs a hand down her snout when the horse whines in greeting.
“Anne?” Gilbert says carefully from behind her. “Do I get to speak now?”
“I’m not sure yet,” she says, directing her words towards Desdemona.
“Alright,” he replies, then pauses for a moment, feet crunching across the grass as he slowly moves towards her. “How about now?”
Anne maintains eye contact with Desdemona, not sure why she can’t look at Gilbert yet.
“I think… no.”
“May I ask why?”
“Because I have a feeling that whatever you say is going to fix it, and I don’t know if I’m ready for it to be fixed,” responds Anne stubbornly.
“Anne.” Gilbert sighs, stepping forward until he’s very close behind her, voice low against her ear. He wraps his arms around her waist from behind, resting his chin on her shoulder. Unbidden, Anne gets goosebumps. She finds herself wishing that he would rest his face against the back of her neck and brush his eyelashes against her skin. “I can’t fix it.”
She stiffens against him.
“Well, why not?”
“Because it’s impossible.”
Anne turns around to face him, slightly aghast at how playful he’s being.
“So what might you suggest?”
“I suggest… that eventually, and not right now, you’ll have to make a choice between two good things. And if you choose me, if you choose trying to build something together, I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to make sure you feel that you’ve picked the right one.”
Gilbert is watching Anne so hopefully that she finds herself incapable of resisting. Her irrational fury subsides, ebbing away into the eyes that had made her fall in love with Gilbert in the first place. She rises to press her mouth against his, briefly, sweetly, letting it soothe her down to her toes.
“Impossible, was it?” she says, leaning back to press her forehead against his. “I’m not sure you know what that word means.”
“My studies are failing me.”
“They’re too science focused. Someday you’ll need to become well-rounded.”
“Ha,” he says, kissing her again. “Anne I… I can’t promise that we’ll be able to stay near Matthew and Marilla, or that the two of us will always have it easy. I don’t even know what I can promise you right now. But I know that I can try to give you happiness. I can give you a home with me and I won’t be upset if Green Gables is your home too. You never have to give Avonlea up, no matter what happens in our lives.”
Relief curls around her, slowing the beat of her heart.
“I think even if we go somewhere else, it will always be our home.”
Gilbert nods in agreement, sliding his hand down to hers and beginning to walk slowly back towards the rest of their party. .
“I didn’t use to know that. I learned it on the ship.”
She presses her elbow into his side playfully.
“If anything, I think the ship taught you that you’re incapable of choosing between me and Bash.”
He crinkles his nose.
“Why in the world would I have to?”
“You don’t have to; that’s why you returned.”
Gilbert nods at her, dripping sarcasm.
“You’re right. The only reason I came home.”
“I’m glad you did,” says Anne, dropping the humor as she stops walking to look at him. They’re on the edge of the yard now, fiddle and banjo surrounding them once more. Diana is dancing with Cole now, the train of her dress trailing after her as she weaves in and out of the set. “I need someone to pretend to be an adult with, now that Diana’s gone and actually grown up.”
“Do you think any of them actually know what they’re doing?” Gilbert asks doubtfully.
“I think Mrs. Lynde does,” Anne answers, straight-faced.
He laughs into the music, voice soaring with the notes. Anne can’t be certain which one sounds better to her ears. She has come to learn that there is nothing quite like the melody of Gilbert Blythe.
Previously, Gilbert had enjoyed train rides. He liked hurtling at speeds faster than he had ever thought man could travel; liked watching people board in their best clothes. When he travelled with his father as a young boy, he found the gentle rocking of the train to be synonymous with the excitement of a new adventure. After his father died, he associated trains with happier times, times when he had known his father would pass but a small part of him still desperately hoped for a miracle.
He doesn’t believe in miracles anymore, and he no longer likes trains.
Those times had been before this, before he had been studying at a university hours away from his soulmate-- lifemate, Anne would correct if she had heard that. Gilbert would shrug, as he always does, and say “either way,” which he always says. He doesn’t know if he believes in soulmates, but he certainly believes that he wasn’t built to live this far away from Anne. The last six months have been brutal and dry, with nothing between them but constant letters. He would consume them like a lifeline between seminars or labs or hours spent in the tiny room he rents out from an old widow who pinches his cheeks whenever she sees him.
He’s reread her letters so many times, lonely and antsy and perpetually missing her, that he finds his thoughts forming themselves like Anne’s sentences sometimes. He’ll be in the middle of a course and think of the human heart as “glorious” and have to stop himself from snorting out loud in public. She drifts in and out of his mind even when he attempts to focus, driving him to distraction, which is especially exasperating because he’d only stayed away to try to finish medical school earlier. For that, he will need to focus.
With Anne Shirley Cuthbert in his life, he should have anticipated that focusing would be quite difficult.
This last week, his resolve had broken. He had written to let Anne and Bash know that he was coming for a weekend visit and had promptly shut any part of his brain down that didn’t lend itself to studying. It had taken several days of little sleep and too much black coffee, but he had managed to get far ahead enough in his coursework to make the trek home. He’d ignored his yearning for his bed and had left at first light, making the earliest train with time to spare.
The second he had taken his seat, however, he felt like his head was underwater.
Or, more accurately, he had been feeling such a way for several days now. He’d assumed it was in his mind and would vanish once the pressure of getting ahead had dissipated; had expected it to fade once he was on the train. Instead, the pressure beats against his head like a thick ruler. All Gilbert wants to do is unbutton his coat, but it certainly wouldn’t be appropriate, so he leans his head against the cold glass of the window pane and wills himself to fall asleep.
His luck follows the same pattern it has been. He’s awake for the entire train ride, alternating between shivering and overheating while he closes his eyes against the window. By the time they pull into the station, Gilbert has had neither a wink of sleep nor the energy to study. He blearily sits up, tugging his cap over his head before he collects his case. The first breath of fresh air he’s had in hours clears his head somewhat, and as he exhaustedly searches the platform for Bash, he thinks fondly of laying his head on the pillow on his bed at home.
Gilbert is just contemplating moving deeper into the crowd when his gaze catches a shock of red hair near the station wall. Between crowds of people, he takes in bits of her all at once-- the tendrils of hair in front of her face, the white gloves around hands that are nervously twisting together, warm wool coat buttoned at her waist and brushing against the top of her small black boots.
Then her freckles, the most familiar pattern in his world.
Anne turns her head towards him as though she can feel his eyes on her face, and even from across the platform, Gilbert can see the way she inhales deeply at the sight of him and sighs it out. Then she begins moving, disappearing in and out of his view as she fights her way to him. The crowd is exasperatingly slow. Gilbert can tell that Anne wants to run, so he saves her the time. Determinedly, he takes off his hat and rushes to her, grabbing her around the waist and spinning her in a circle. When he sets her back down, she wraps her arms around him and turns her face into his neck, not caring to move one inch away from him. Gilbert doesn’t mind at all.
“I never thought it was possible to miss anyone as much as I have missed you,” she says against his skin, voice muffled.
It occurs to Gilbert that they haven’t been apart for this long since they met, and that just makes him hold onto her tighter, inhaling the scent of winter sunshine. He can barely think of words to say, feeling loopy and overwhelmed and simultaneously heavy and weightless.
“It’s occurring to me now that refusing to see you because I wanted to focus on my studies was... a hazardous proposition at best.”
“As long as you said it first,” Anne says cheekily, bringing her lips up to his. She frowns, pulling back and holding him at an arm's length, inspecting him. “When was the last time you ate?”
“Recently,” responds Gilbert. He doesn’t actually recall, but it doesn’t much matter because, frankly, he just wants to kiss her again.
Anne is not to be deterred, however. Briskly, she tugs off her gloves and presses her fingers against his cheeks, then his forehead.
“Gilbert,” she says, aghast.
“You’ve got a fever.”
“Hmm,” he responds, tilting his head to the side so that he can press his luck with another kiss. Anne steps away from him, picks up his suitcase, and begins marching through the crowd with even more conviction than normal. Gilbert stumbles after her, not sure where they’re going but following Anne nevertheless.
Eventually, when she’s certain he’s following her, she slows down and loops back to put her arm through his. Gilbert leans against her more heavily than he normally would, feeling very much that he would topple over if Anne weren’t there to catch him.
“How did you even get here?” she asks exasperatedly.
“There was a train,” he says, jerking his thumb backwards towards the station.
Anne harrumphs but keeps walking. Eventually, Gilbert sees Belle tied to a post, hitched to Matthew’s buggy. She’s contently munching on some scrawny grass, but she turns her big brown eyes towards them as Anne and Gilbert come closer.
“Good morning,” Gilbert says politely as Anne sets his case in the back of the buggy.
Anne clears her throat.
“In,” she orders, voice stern but not unkind, her hands planted firmly on her hips.
“Fine,” Gilbert responds with dignity, “but you’re interrupting what I can only assume would be a very stimulating conversation with this horse.”
He hoists himself up into the driver’s seat, feeling suddenly woozy at how high up he is.
“No, the other side.”
Anne sounds exasperated as she stares up at him from the ground. She looks very short. Like a tiny, angry fairy. He thinks she’s probably a good teacher if she uses this look on her students. Then he wonders if Anne would like to be called a tiny angry fairy. These are things that they should learn about each other, he thinks.
“I can drive,” Gilbert protests, but Anne’s lips get thinner so he slides over. She unties Belle and swings herself into the buggy, then arranges her long coat around her knees like a blanket. It looks warm. Gilbert decides to scoot closer to her and lay his head on her shoulder as Anne clicks her mouth and eases Belle into motion.
The ride home isn’t terribly long. Gilbert closes his eyes against the wind and, when he opens them, finds himself in front of his childhood home while Anne gently attempts to ease him off of her shoulder. He can’t be certain, but from the quirk of her mouth he thinks she’s either laughing at him or admiring his beauty. Before he can ask, however, Anne has hopped down from the carriage and is over on his side, helping him down.
The tiredness has become consumingly heavy by the time they reach the front hall. Anne all but drags Gilbert up the stairs and into his bedroom, so persistent that he doesn’t have time to wonder if she’s ever been in here before.
“You should change your clothes,” she says, pointing towards the chest at the corner. “I’m going to go take care of Belle.”
“Anne, you should go home.” Gilbert says as he begins to unbutton his coat. He blinks a few times, realizing what he was about to do, and quickly puts his hands at his side. “I could get you sick.”
She moves forward and kisses him on the cheek.
“I believe it’s too late for that at this point, Mister Blythe,” she says lightly. “Get changed.”
Anne pulls the door shut behind herself and Gilbert goes over to the basin to splash water on his face before remembering that there’s nothing in it. He manages to get a glimpse at his reflection in the mirror, however, and is startled by what he sees. His face is paler than normal-- he’s not sure how he can tell-- his eyes have large purple circles underneath them, and his hair is snarled from the buggy.
He turns away from his reflection, peeling off layers until he’s down to his undershirt. Then he kicks off his shoes and climbs beneath the covers, cuddling up to the sweater that had been folded on the side of his bed since the last time he was home. Anne had knitted it for him. Gilbert loves her.
A few minutes later, she bustles into the room without knocking, heading to the basin to pour water from a pitcher into it. Anne dips a cloth into the water, then pulls a chair up beside his bed and lays the cloth across his forehead, pushing back his hair with her other hand.
“Anne,” says Gilbert, licking his dry lips. “I think I’ve got the flu.”
She laughs at that, squeezing his shoulder.
“I think medical school is doing well by you,” she responds. “Why haven’t you been sleeping?”
“I’ve been taking extra courses to try to graduate early.”
She raises her eyebrows.
“Why didn’t you tell me that?”
“Didn’t want you to get your hopes up,” he says. “In case… you know. In case I failed.”
“I’d rather you fail than wear yourself down like this.”
Anne is so gentle that it sweeps Gilbert‘s mind into order, finding it overwhelming to be taken care of like this— especially by her. It brings him emotions he has spent most of his adult life chasing after: the safety and security of an immovable home. The warmest flame crackling in their hearth.
“I don’t like it, is all,” he says, finding her hand where it rests on his shoulder and wrapping his fingers around hers.
“You don’t like medical school?” she asks, clearly surprised by that, but Gilbert shakes his head.
“No,” he says frowning. “I don’t like not being married to you.”
Anne doesn’t move, but her expression does, morphing from gentle amusement to a startled, parted mouth, wide-eyed stare.
“Oh,” she says, and he assumes, rather grumpily, that it means she doesn’t feel the same way, which he doesn’t like at all. He trundles on, not to be deterred by her lack of reaction, because he wants her to know. He wants her to know that he knows he’s lucky. He wants her to know that he knows that she knows that there is a whole world out there, and he is just what he is, he is not the world. He is not the world, but Anne is.
“Some days,” Gilbert begins, and then he loses his nerve. “No. No. Never mind.”
“Well, you can’t start a sentence like that and never finish it,” Anne needles, raising her eyebrows. “It’s not polite.”
“Some days I… I think I might not ever be able to make someone like you happy.”
“‘Someone like me?’” Anne echoes, confused.
“I know I can’t… I can’t offer you as much as someone else could. I have a small farm. I’ll most likely have a small practice someday. Even after I finish medical school, it’ll be longer still before I can turn a profit in my work, and--”
“Gil.” She cuts him off sharply. “I don’t need you to go any further down this path. It’s the wrong direction.”
“But what if you think that now--?”
“My calling is to be a teacher. Your calling is to be a doctor. What makes you think those lives aren’t well-suited to each other?”
“I think that you have always wanted adventure. And that marrying me would hold you back from it.”
“Or,” Anne says coaxingly, “spending my life with a kindred spirit would be the most wonderful adventure someone who grew up without a family could ask for.”
He worries his bottom lip between his teeth, barely feeling it amidst everything else.
“What about all the expensive things I may not be able to give you, a house like Aunt Josephine’s, jewelry—“
“Oh well that does it,” Anne says sarcastically. “I’ll just be on my way then.”
“Anne,” he croaks, sounding so utterly pathetic to his own ears that he wants to hide underneath the covers. She’s silent for a moment, simply moving her hand out to adjust the cloth that is resting on his forehead.
“Is this how you think all the time,” she asks, dimmed. “Or is it just because you’re not feeling well?”
He grabs her hand where it rests over his forehead, pulling it to his cheek. Her fingers are cold against him, pliant to his touch. Gilbert doesn’t know how to respond.
“I don’t know,” he says eventually.
“Something like this doesn’t come out of nowhere.”
She sounds exceedingly disappointed in him, like she’d forgotten that it was possible for him to have insecurities. Gilbert has let her know more of him than anyone else. To weather her disappointment feels impossible. He’d sooner be numb.
“It would just be easier, is all,” he says slowly, “with someone else.”
Anne steps out of her chair, resting on her knees in front of the bed so that she can move closer to him. Staring at her, Gilbert places her hand over his chest, keeping her with him.
“It might be easier,” she admits. Up close, her eyes are so many different colors, all of which burst across her iris like bolts of lightning. “But. Nothing worth having ever comes easy. Except for falling in love with you.”
All of his aches, his feverish heartbreak, his delirious self doubt, come tumbling down grandly. He is sick with loving her; he is exhausted by his own brain. Suddenly, all he wants to do is sleep.
“I love you,” he says hoarsely. The words pop out quickly, like he’s afraid they’ll get stolen from him before he can give them away to her.
“You need to sleep,” Anne responds, kissing him on the forehead before she stands up. “Do you want anything right now?”
He nods, sliding over so that there’s enough room on his bed for her. Anne studies the spot for a moment, then turns around to shut the curtains as tightly as she can, unlace her boots, and remove some of the pins from her hair. Gilbert is awestruck as she creeps into the bed with him, over the covers but so, so close, just as he’s wanted her to be for half a year.
Unbidden, he yawns, and the last thing Gilbert feels before he falls asleep is Anne’s rhythmic breathing and the knowledge that he is exactly where he is supposed to be.
The fever is gone when Gilbert wakes up. So is Anne, but he had been expecting that. He sits up in bed despite the fact that his head is aching and is relieved to find a full glass of water on his bedside table. Gratefully, he gulps it down, then attempts to stand up so that he can go to the basin and refill the glass.
Two steps in, he ends up getting dizzy again and crashes into a wall, cussing loudly as he does. Moments later, the door bursts open and Anne stands there, a ladle in her hand, looking frantic as she surveys the room.
“Are you alright?” she asks, hurrying over to him and steadying him as he leans against the wall.
“Fine,” he says, wincing. “Nursing a bruised ego, is all.”
Anne rolls her eyes.
“Get back in bed,” she instructs commandingly, making sure he’s under the covers before she brushes out of the room. Gilbert sits there, confused, until Anne comes back with a bowl clutched between her hands, steam curling towards her jaw. “Here.”
He carefully takes the bowl and looks down to find soup, complete with carefully chopped carrots.
“Hey, it’s—“ he starts.
“Don’t say it,” warns Anne, but she’s smiling as she pours another glass of water and sets it on his night table. “Do you remember the first time I ever cooked for you?”
She sits down on the bed by his knees, pressing her lips together as she waits for his response.
“You gave me a shepherd’s pie and Diana said ‘Anne’s a good cook’ and you shouted ‘but I would make a terrible wife!’”
He laughs and she joins him, covering her face with her hands.
“You thought I was so odd.”
“I truly did,” he says with sincerity. “And we can agree to disagree about the sentiment.”
Anne hesitates. Gilbert senses her words coming before she opens her mouth to speak, already bracing himself against the shame.
“Do we need to talk about this?” she says, in a way that implies that he doesn’t have much of a choice.
“I’m sorry.” The response is immediate. Gilbert sets the bowl of soup on his night table and sits up straighter, trying to press upon her his embarrassment. “I don’t know… what any of that was. Perhaps it was harder to be away from you for that long than I initially thought, but that’s no excuse for my behavior, I know that, and--”
“Usually I’m the one rambling through apologies,” Anne teases generously. Her words are a welcome breeze against his face, his personal spring in the middle of this harsh winter. “Gilbert, I-- I forget sometimes. That you have the capacity to have the same insecurities that plague anyone else. I look at you and I see... strength and resilience and magic, and I forget that I-- well. I hold pieces of you. That I should be careful with them.”
“I’ve never wanted you to have to settle,” he says, looking away from her. “You had all of these… ideas when we were younger, these things you wanted to do. If there is any chance that you would be able to do them…” He trails off, knowing he doesn’t need to finish the sentence, nor does he want to.
“Girlhood daydreams and fantasies are wonderful.” Anne’s voice is delicate and contemplative as she moves her hand to cover his. “But they don’t have the reality of you. My wonderful best friend. A kindred spirit. And I by far prefer that, you know.”
Gilbert hadn’t known that, but he does now. He feels all of it, right in his chest. He has his dark times, times when he sits next to Anne at Marilla’s dinner table and can’t say anything, staring down at his plate. He has days when he feels haunted by the ghosts of the parents and older siblings he has lost, as if they still walk the halls of his home no matter how much love he tries to fill it up with. But the burn of Anne is able to chase all of that away most days. She warms him until it’s an inferno; until the flame chases all the darkness out of his corners.
They do that together, when he thinks about it.
“I guess I’m not alone anymore, am I?”
It comes out in a heavy sigh that belays the severity of the statement. It’s not just her presence in his home or the fact that he’s allowed to call her his sweetheart. When he makes decisions now, they impact her. When she makes choices, they’ll impact him someday too.
“No. You’re not.” When Anne responds, it feels like a promise.
“Bash has helped a little but… I’m afraid I’m still not used to not going at it by myself.”
“I promise to ensure that you do get used to it.”
As if to prove her point, Anne picks up the water glass that he’d put aside and hands it to him, as if to emphasize that she knows how to care for him. Gilbert chuckles weakly.
“You sure you want a life with someone who’s such a fool when he’s sick?”
It’s a failed stab at a joke, and one that Anne sees right through.
“What I want is the life we can make,” she tells him, leveling her gaze so that he can see the intensity with which she means it. “Which is up to both of us. Not you alone.”
She carefully moves forward, places both of her hands on his cheeks, and kisses him with an earnestness that the two of them rarely have time for. Gilbert buries his hand in her hair, returning her affection with an equal intensity, feeling very much like he will never stop owing her.
“Speaking of being alone,” he says when they part, “where are the rest of the people who live here?”
“They went to Charlottetown today to pick up some things they can’t get here. Wanted to go all out for your weekend back.”
“And they didn’t anticipate that I would be spending most of my time with you?” questions Gilbert, genuinely concerned by the absurdity of the notion.
“I promised them at least one dinner.” She turns around, gesturing towards the pinafore she’s wearing over her clothes. “Can you help me with this?”
He undoes the strings and Anne neatly folds the pinafore onto the chair next to him, setting it neatly down before she crawls back into his bed with him, head on his arm. They’re going to fall asleep with her lying on top of him like this, but he doesn’t mind.
Which reminds him.
“Don’t fall asleep,” Gilbert warns. “You’re going to have to get up before the calvary gets home.”
“I won’t,” promises Anne happily. “I have stories to tell you anyway.”
“Oh, stories?” Gilbert says, adjusting his position so that he can sink deeper into the mattress. “What did those dastardly students of yours do this time?”
He listens to her speak animatedly about the goings on in her classroom and thinks about what it would be like to come home to her at the end of the day. To tell her his own stories in exchange for hers, to draw them out of her, to hear her thoughts, to never have to be interrupted because they are surrounded by what is theirs.
Before, when Gilbert had been half-delirious and more exhausted than he’d ever been in his life, he had meant just one thing. He doesn’t like not being married to her. He’d so much rather they begin, that they never have to be apart again, that no absence went without certainty of when they would see each other again.
He’ll wait as long as she needs because the only thing he needs is her.
“Please do not forget, everyone, that we will be spending a large portion of tomorrow’s lesson in the forest. Take care to dress warmly.” Anne stares around at all of her students, nodding when she is certain that all of them have heard her. “Class dismissed,” she says, and there’s a scramble of benches being pushed back and loud chattering among the children. She begins to clear up her desk, dawdling in case anyone wishes to discuss something with her, but it’s a delightful September day and none of the students seem interested in staying in the school building. Once they’ve all left, Anne slips on her coat and secures all the doors before heading out into the sunshine.
She’s only just closed the door to the schoolhouse when she hears someone behind her clearing their throat. Anne’s back tenses, and she turns around to see Gilbert Blythe leaning against a tree, watching her with a light smirk across his mouth. He’s got an apple in his right hand, which he tosses twice in the air as he straightens up and makes his way towards her. Anne glances left, then right for her students before she matches his stride, grabbing him by the collar and pulling him down so that they’re face to face.
Gilbert doesn’t say anything before he kisses her. He tastes like apples when he presses his mouth against hers, sweet and tart, and Anne feels indecently tantalized by how large his hand is on the back of her neck.
“Happy day four of the rest of our lives,” he says, pulling back to lean his forehead against hers. At the rough scrape of his voice, showing just how ragged she’s made him, Anne contemplates backing him against the tree he’d been leaning on, but they’re still too close to her place of work and, besides, Matthew and Marilla are expecting her.
“Are you planning on picking me up everyday after school?” she asks breathlessly, still leaning her forehead against his. “Because if you are, we should add it to the take notice board.”
“Of course,” he agrees, barely holding back an eye roll. “How else will anyone know you’re my girl?”
She purses her lips against a smile, brushing a hand through his hair. With the thick heels on her boots, it’s far easier to reach his hair than it had been before. Anne has become enamored with touching his face since it is now that much closer.
“In all seriousness, I do feel that I need a warning if you’re going to be walking me home each afternoon.”
“You and schoolhouses together are… dangerous territory for me, I think,” Anne answers, to which Gilbert laughs and scrunches up his nose, nodding in agreement.
“You’re right,” he replies, reaching down to squeeze her waist. “Shame on me for not thinking of that beforehand.”
He turns around and jogs back towards the tree, under which he had left a sack of apples, a few of which are spilling out onto the ground.
“Did you expect to be waiting longer than you were?” jokes Anne.
“They’re for Marilla,” answers Gilbert, offering her his arm. She places her hand on it and the two of them begin walking slowly through the fields, dawdling on the way home like they’re school children.
It’s been four days since Gilbert came home to Avonlea, home to her, and Anne has never felt so elated in her entire life. She feels with great certainty that this is the thing she has spent her whole life waiting for-- this unadulterated peace which refuses to be marred by anything mortal. If she misses him, he’s a horse ride away. If she has a bad day, she can go see him. If he has something he wants to tell her or to discuss with her, all he needs to do is come to Green Gables.
In truth, the only inconvenient thing about Gilbert being home is that it takes nearly ten whole minutes for them to reach each other. With the amount of back-and-forth that they’ve been doing, it would make far more sense for them to simply live in the same place. Preferably with a semblance of privacy, because Jerry has caught them kissing in the barn once already and Anne isn’t keen on a repeat of his knowing grin while she yelled loud threats at his retreating back. They can’t go to Gilbert’s either, because Delly is so glad to have him back that she has taken to following him around everywhere he goes.
“It’s so frustrating,” Anne had complained to Diana on day three. Diana, who had been in the process of changing Cordelia, had looked up with an expression that told Anne exactly what she had expected: she was making her own problem.
“You know the solution, Anne,” Diana had responded, not bothering to entertain any of her angst. These days, they have less time to chat, what with Anne’s job and Diana’s two children. The babies are only a year apart, so whenever Anne has come over in the last few months, her conversations with Diana have been no-nonsense in a new way. Diana has developed a new habit of shoving the children into her arms and running for the bathtub, shouting responses through the bathroom door as Anne plays with Fred and Cordelia.
“Do I know the solution?” Anne had said rhetorically, then let her shoulders slump at the look on Diana’s face. “I know. Leave Green Gables. Leave Matthew and Marilla.”
“Maybe even leave Avonlea,” Diana had finally added, taking a seat next to her and laying a hand on her knee. “Anne, we don’t need a doctor here. Gilbert will have to go elsewhere if he wants his own practice. He’s simply biding his time here until you’ll follow him to wherever he goes next.”
“But how do I know it’s the right time to leave?” Anne’s voice had been desperate, causing Diana to take some pity on her, despite her constantly waning patience with the situation.
“There is no such thing as a right time,” she’d said simply. “But we all have to leave eventually, Anne.”
Everyone’s been saying it for years. We all have to grow up someday. We have to leave eventually. People change. Things change. She’s spent so much time attempting to chisel that into her mind, attempting to make a shift feel positive instead of negative. The way to do so, she would argue, is to decide it.
That’s what she’s chosen to do tonight. She’s going to decide it.
“You’re staying for supper, right?” Anne says now, squeezing Gilbert’s arm lightly.
“Marilla invited me when she saw me at the post office,” responds Gilbert, sounding amused. “I told her I’d come if she made plum puffs.”
“That’s how you'll really know if she likes you. If she makes her plum puffs on command.”
“Remember last year when we convinced her to make an extra batch for us?” Gilbert sounds impish, looking at her with an eyebrow raised. “I was at least eighty-percent of the reason she agreed.”
“You’re incorrigible,” Anne pronounces, causing Gilbert to take a small bow as they continue their way through the forest.
“But at least I’m consistent,” he replies, turning his face up to the canopy of trees above them.
The blue sky is mostly hidden by old branches and leaves that have nearly reached the end of their tenure, casting a shadow over Gilbert’s face. Anne likes looking at him like this, when the shadows are drawn and pronounced over his features. Each crevice of his face seems sharper and more defined, reminding her that there is always more to discover in the man she loves. Gilbert is normally brightness to her; when she pictures him, he’s always cast in a golden glow, reminiscent of picnics and fireplaces and the sun shining as he chases her through his orchard. But in the shade of the woods, she feels that he is on the ground next to her, boots pressing into the muck, feet stumbling upon the same elderly roots she is.
He looks older too like this, and she’s so achingly fond of the fact that she gets to see what he looks like as an adult. Anne doesn’t know when she would have seen Gilbert again, had he never found out that she loved him too. Would he have come back for their friends’ weddings? Would he have shown up in Avonlea one day to take Delly to the county fair? Or would he have become a faded, aching memory to her, an idea of a future that should have been?
Now that she has it, she cannot fathom why she had been willing to let it go.
“Gilbert,” says Anne, halting her steps. She turns to face him, folding her hands behind her back as she watches him carefully. “I need to talk to you before we… before we go to Green Gables.”
“Alright.” Gilbert throws his apple across the forest and turns to her, his arms crossed over his chest as he looks at her. “Is there something wrong?”
“No!” Anne says hurriedly, and Gilbert’s shoulders unclench. “Oh, I suppose I could’ve started this better, couldn’t I?”
“Most likely,” he deadpans, teasing her.
Anne gives him a look before she takes both of his hands in hers.
“I have… the wildest imagination of anyone I know, sometimes to my detriment, I know, but you not only tolerate it, you love that about me. You show me that you love it about me. And my imagination never could have conjured up a world where I had someone like you, someone who is in love with me for the things that people used to try to squeeze out of me until there was nothing left. Gilbert, you are kind and patient and nearly as intelligent as I am, and I’m terrified to leave Matthew and Marilla until I remember that walking away from Green Gables means walking towards you. I love you. And so.” She hesitates just a moment to track his reaction. His face is confoundingly neutral, his grip tight around her fingers. “I’m ready to marry you.”
When Gilbert speaks his voice cracks and she loves him even more for it.
“You’re ready to be married?” he repeats slowly, clearly trying to ensure that no part of this is a misunderstanding.
She nods firmly, gathering all her courage to say what she needs to say.
“I am giving you permission to propose to me.”
If Anne has any expectation of what Gilbert’s reaction is going to be, the one she gets most certainly is not it. He takes her hand immediately and begins storming through the woods so quickly that Anne almost struggles to keep up with him. Though his grip is gentle, there’s a determination in his expression that seems almost wild as he keeps his head down and plows towards Green Gables.
“Gilbert,” she tries to say, but he keeps on walking, the blank expression on his face not changing once. Walking quickly through a forest on a day as beautiful as this one seems a waste to Anne, but nevertheless, by the time they reach the farm she is more interested in understanding what’s happening than in scolding him for wasting a perfectly lovely walk.
They crash through the front door of Green Gables, still hand in hand, to find Marilla preparing the stew at the stove.
“Gilbert!” she says cheerfully. “Are those apples for me?” He nods wordlessly, placing them on the table. “Stay for dinner. Anne, you’ll set an extra place, won’t you?”
She nods, equally wordless, and for the first time, Marilla’s hands stop as she looks at the two of them. Just as she’s opening her mouth to inquire, Matthew trundles down the stairs, shaking water from his hands having just washed up for supper. Gilbert steps forward, releasing Anne’s fingers for the first time since they’d left the forest.
“May I speak with you please?” he asks Matthew.
It sets in for Anne and her heart melts. Matthew, wonderful Matthew, is the closest thing Anne has to a father. Gilbert is acknowledging that, in his own sweet way. And what’s more, he actually seems nervous. His hands twist in front of him, fingers trembling with unsuppressed nerves.
Anne looks between Matthew and Gilbert and waits.
“Oh, I, ah, yes I think… yes.”
“Thank you, sir,” says Gilbert sincerely.
“This way, then,” replies Matthew, ducking his head down as he moves towards the back of the house.
Gilbert begins to follow him, then stops, turns around, and looks at Anne. He swiftly moves back to her, kissing her once, twice, three times on the mouth before turning back around and following Matthew to the other room.
Anne collapses into a kitchen chair and stares at the wall, quite overwhelmed.
“My goodness, whatever was that about?”
Marilla wipes her hands against her apron and sits at the table across from Anne.
“I… I told him he could marry me,” Anne says, hands folded in her lap. She looks across the table at Marilla’s soft expression. Wisps of gray hair fall out of her bun and elegantly against her face. The lines of this smile are indelible within Anne’s memory. When Marilla reaches across the table and covers Anne’s hand with hers, this moment joins it.
“Oh Anne,” she says, voice drenched with the type of kindness that Anne will never quite be used to, no matter how many times someone has offered it to her. “I am so tremendously happy for you.”
With no capacity for words, Anne simply squeezes her hand. It’s enough.
Anne breathes in. She breathes out. She can’t understand, at first, why she’s nervous-- Gilbert is practically family already, of course Matthew will say yes. But her heart is pounding in her chest, waiting for the two of them to emerge from the back of the house, the echo of Gilbert’s kiss still draped across her mouth. And she realizes that she is so nervous because there is nothing in her life that she has ever wanted so badly as to be married to Gilbert Blythe.
It feels like a lifetime before Matthew and Gilbert make their way out of the back of the house, Gilbert’s cheeks pink. Anne rises from her chair and rushes over to him, badly wanting to ask what Matthew had said, but all he does is kiss her on the temple and ask Marilla if he could help set the table.
Next, she looks over at Matthew, trying to find a glimpse of an answer in his eye, but he simply shuffles across the kitchen to grab the heavy pot of stew and bring it over to the table. Anne barely focuses as she sets their places, eyes darting between all three other occupants of the kitchen. Marilla, who is just as in the dark as Anne is, merely shrugs, hustling over to the pantry to grab a fork for Gilbert when she notices that Anne is one short.
Dinner is a mostly silent affair for the first time since Gilbert had come back from school. Anne eats her stew and ponders whether they can all hear her chewing. Every once in a while, Gilbert’s ankle will knock against hers under the table, causing her to lightly press her foot into his in return. It’s a language they’ve developed over the years, mostly meaning ‘I wish we were alone’ or ‘I need to speak with you’ or, quite simply, ‘I’m here.’ Tonight, Anne doesn’t have a clear idea of what it means. She compliments Marilla on a stew that she barely can taste and tries to slow the frantic beating of her heart.
“Gilbert,” Marilla says eventually, clearly attempting to ease some of the thick tension in the room. “Have you decided where you’re going to practice yet?”
He glances over at Anne, who remembers what Diana had said about him waiting for her prior to making a decision.
“Maybe,” he says carefully. “I’ve discussed employment opportunities with a few of Dr. Oak’s old professors who are considering retirement.”
It’s the first time he’s mentioned any of that to Anne. She wonders just how careful he’s been, of late, with talking about what lies ahead. She wonders if he’s been holding back since he got home, not wanting to startle her with the work he is doing to plan their future.
She wants to tell him that nothing he could say to her, no plan or pitfall, could ever make her run away from him, but she isn’t able to pinpoint when that became true. Anne may never know when she had become ready to leave Avonlea. She thinks, moreso, that she is simply ready to follow Gilbert.
The two of them are in the process of washing the dishes when Gilbert glances out the window at the setting sun.
“Oh, I have to go,” he says, full of regret. “I promised Bash I’d assist him with some work before it gets dark outside.”
“I’ll walk you to the gate,” interjects Anne hastily, barely letting him complete his sentence. Marilla gives her an amused look, but Anne simply hangs up her pinafore and passes Gilbert’s hat off to him, then bursts out into the enchanting Avonlea evening.
Gilbert takes her hand as they walk across the grass. He looks fondly around the farm, going far slower than he had been walking when they arrived earlier today. They’re going to get married here, Anne decides in her head. Right on this land that had raised her, among the people who loved her until she became the person she is today.
By the time they reach the gate, her hands are sweating.
“Well,” Gilbert says, turning towards her. He glances at the window, making sure nobody is watching, before he gently wraps his arms around Anne’s waist and pulls her closer to him. He then leans into her and carefully runs his hand down her cheek, a small smile crossing his mouth as he does. The thumb that brushes the corner of her bottom lip is warm and calloused against her. “I love you, Anne-girl,” he murmurs, leaning down to kiss her sweetly. Anne melts into him, tipping her head to his as her heart pounds against both of their chests.
“I love you too,” she says, voice straining with the effort of withholding herself. Her heart, her expanded, open, tender heart, feels fuller than it ever has before. She wonders how she will carry it with her for the rest of her life, with the weight of such divine joy resting within her.
“See you tomorrow then,” Gilbert replies, abruptly pulling away and pushing the gate open.
Anne bristles, unsettled by the unexpected lack-of-Gilbert against her body.
“That’s it?” she asks, a little shriller than she’d like to be. There’s a laugh in her voice that causes one of Gilbert’s eyebrows to slide all the way up, giving way to the boyish smugness that she is now so fond of but had once wanted to slap off of his ever-so-charming face.
“Oh Anne,” he says, “I’ve waited my whole life to propose to you. You didn’t think you’d get off that easy, did you?”
Without waiting for an answer, he tips his hat at her and heads down the lane. Anne stands at the gate, looking at the familiar lines of Avonlea even after her love has disappeared into the trees.
Adrenaline rushes through her veins that night as she lies in bed, thinking about what it will be like to have Gilbert Blythe’s ring on her finger. She imagines going to Diana tomorrow to tell her about their evening and to speculate about whatever fantastical proposal he will come up with. Despite herself, she finds herself picturing soaring doves and swathes of flowers and dramatic speeches.
But there’s something uncomfortable about all of it, something that doesn’t fit right. Gilbert isn’t her fantasy of what romance is supposed to be. More than that, she doesn’t want him to be. He loves her in a way that is true, in a way that is unwilting, in a way that is so personal to who he is.
Anne doesn’t want any of it. The doves, the flowers, the speeches using poetic Shakespearian prose. And a part of her doesn’t want to share it either; can’t imagine divulging the details to Diana and Cole over a cup of tea. So many of her most important moments with Gilbert growing up had been in the presence of her best friends, but they aren’t children anymore.
She doesn’t want to give that away to anyone else. Anne wants to protect it, lock it away in a treasure chest and keep it there, perfectly preserved, untarnished by anyone else’s fingertips.
Whenever he proposes, and whatever he says, however right it is… that one thing will be just for them.
From the window, Anne can see everything fall into place.
They’ve commandeered tables from different spots around town with the promise of their safe return. Gilbert, Cole, Fred, Matthew, Sebastian, and Jerry have spent all day transporting them from one place to another, using the largest wagons they have. Anne would feel guilty, watching them lug heavy tables around the yard, but she, Diana, and Marilla have been inside all morning, trying to throw together enough food to keep all their guests satiated throughout the afternoon. They’re getting married in the morning, but it’s Anne’s deepest desire that they spend the afternoon surrounded by the people they love. Marilla and Anne are making the most luxurious cake Anne’s imagination could come up with. Diana, being the most wonderful matron of honor anyone could ask for, has whipped up countless servings of her famous punch, for which she’d brought her fanciest serving bowl.
Only Delly has been floating from place to place. She stands beside Anne in the kitchen and lets Anne show her how to neatly crack an egg. She rushes into the living room to coo at baby Cordelia and watch over little Fred. She sprints into the yard to wrap her arms around Gilbert’s leg or swing on her father’s arm. At one point, Diana jokingly asks Anne if she’s jealous.
“Absolutely,” Anne replies. “I only wish Sebastian would let me hang on his arm like that. We’d have a lovely time.”
By dusk, the cake has been baked and carefully covered. The tablecloths, most of them having been sewn by Anne over the course of the last month, have all been washed, pressed, and are folded in preparation to be laid out on the tables after the ceremony. After an entire day cooped up inside (barring this morning, when she and Diana had gone outside to pick flowers to place on the tables and for her bouquet), Anne decides to bring some of the punch outside to the men, overwhelmed by the need to leave the kitchen.
“Hurry back,” Marilla instructs, as though Anne is going for a walk down the lane rather than across the lawn to offer drinks to the worker bees. She kisses Marilla on the cheek before rushing outside, taking a moment to sigh at the blissful feeling of being surrounded by dusk, crisp air, and the beautiful fall flowers.
The men are still setting up the final table, making sure it’s even as can be. Moody, who had invited himself to this evening’s soiree, is creating a small platform for himself to play his banjo on, so that he’ll be able to stomp his feet to create a rhythm. Gilbert looks to be helping him, and as Anne walks towards them all, she admires the ease with which he yields his hammer. She can do many things, but she’s never never had the blessing of being capable of hammering a nail without getting distracted by her thoughts and completely missing the mark. Gilbert’s competence, as simplistic as it is, makes her toes curl in her shoes.
“I’ve brought refreshments,” she calls out to the gentlemen. Gilbert looks up first, almost as soon as she speaks, as though he’s attuned to the sound of her voice. With his white sleeves rolled up, his hair disheveled, and his skin glistening with a light sweat, he is a sight to behold as he jogs up to her and downs a cup of the sweet punch.
“How does it look?” he asks her. Anne tears her eyes away from his Adam’s apple, looking around the yard. They’ve set up little areas for candles to go in case their cohort wishes to stay after dark. Honestly, Anne can’t imagine making it much longer without leaving for their new home. She’s only seen it once and she’s eager to return, to figure out how to make it exactly theirs. Having never created a home from scratch before, she feels that she should be entirely up to the task. She has been preparing all her life to imagine something into existence that perfectly reflects her idea of comfort and peace and family.
“It looks charming,” she answers, then cuts her eyes toward him. “Certainly not as charming as you are.”
“You’re an incorrigible flirt, miss,” Gilbert says, expression aghast. “I’m getting married tomorrow!”
Anne takes his arm and walks into the group, setting the tray on one of the tables so that everyone else can have an opportunity to take some punch. When all the men are distracted, Gilbert wraps his arm around her waist and bends down to whisper in her ear.
“Meet me outside at nine o’clock tonight.”
Anne turns to look at him, befuddled.
“Why?” she asks, but Gilbert just shrugs, building an air of mystery that she finds strangely beguiling.
“You’ll see,” is all he says, before kissing her temple and pulling her enticingly tighter against his body.
“I’ll have to be back before midnight,” she reminds him gently, and he lowers his face into her neck, keeping an eye out to ensure that no one is looking at them.
“I promise you’ll be back before it’s our wedding day.”
Satisfied with this response, Anne places her hand over his where it rests against her side, unwilling to let him go away quite yet.
“What’s going on over there?” calls Cole loudly. Anne scowls at him, but he just smiles pretending to curtsy at her before turning back to Gilbert.
“We’re just saying our goodbyes,” responds her betrothed, smooth as can be. “Won’t be able to see each other before tomorrow, after all.”
He says it with such a straight face that Anne nearly finds herself giggling, giving it all away. Luckily, Marilla opens the door and yells at her to say goodnight before slamming the door shut.
“Goodnight, sweet Gilbert,” Anne says as dramatically as she can possibly muster. “I shall count the hours until we meet again.”
Actually, this is accurate, as she doesn’t want to be late.
“As will I,” he says, far more serious than she is. Anne wonders if she’ll ever get used to him looking at her this amorously-- like his eyes never want to stray anywhere else, like she’s the most valuable piece of gold he’s even seen.
When she walks back up towards the house, he doesn’t let go of her hand until the last possible moment, fingers following the path of hers for a split second after she is gone, so quick that nobody notices but Anne.
All too soon, the house begins to empty. Anne kisses Fred and Cordelia goodbye, hugs Delly, exchanges her usual words of jest with Sebastian, and squeezes Diana until her wrists are digging painfully into her corset.
Anne wolfs down her supper, shovelling it into her mouth in a most uncivilized manner. When Marilla chastises her, she merely claims that the sooner she gets to sleep, the sooner she can get married, and that is more than enough to silence Matthew and Marilla about her folly. What she really means is that the sooner they eat, the sooner the two of them will go to bed. Matthew is already nearly falling asleep in his chicken, having gotten up earlier than usual to complete his chores so that he would be able to attend to wedding details for the rest of the day. She knows he’s rising even earlier tomorrow, making sure everything is tended to before they go to the church, and it’s likely that he, too, wants to get to bed early.
“I’lldothedishes,” Anne bursts out as they finish their meal. Marilla and Matthew look at her, puzzled. “Well, you both have been working so hard to make this wedding go off without a hitch, and honestly I won’t be here to do the dishes from tomorrow on, so I think it’s only fair, don’t you, that I take care of them one last time?”
The two of them exchange quizzical glances before they both seem to mutually decide to let it go.
“I’ll take a bath then,” Marilla says, untying her apron in the back. Anne sneaks around to help her, feeling so much like a child again, alone in the kitchen doing the dishes to assist the people who have loved her, protected her, taken care of her up until this very point in time.
“Goodnight, Marilla,” she says quietly. Marilla turns around, placing her hand on Anne’s chin and gazing at her for just a moment before wrapping her arms around her and hugging her tightly.
“I am so very proud of you, my Anne,” she murmurs. “You have turned yourself into a fine young woman.”
“I had the very best of help,” Anne says over Marilla’s shoulder, feeling tears prickle in her eyes.
Marilla pulls back, framing Anne’s cheeks with her hands one more time, gazing fondly upon her.
“Perhaps with some of it,” she says. “But that goodness inside of your heart? It was there the day you came here, and it would have been whether or not we brought you back.”
As Anne watches her walk upstairs, she feels a twinge of knowing in her stomach. That was it. That was their goodbye.
She brushes a few tears away with the heel of her hand while she does the dishes, hurrying through the process as best she can. A glance at the sky tells her that she has time, so she dries everything and sets all the dishes carefully back on the shelf, doing a quick scrub down of the stove and oven while she’s there. By that time, she’s gotten into a good momentum, so she sweeps the floor, wipes down the table, and polishes the silver, trying to lose herself in cleaning. She shuts her brain off and moves without needing to think, so that by the time she’s done with the kitchen, she’s managed to wring some of the melancholy out of her heart.
A month ago, when Gilbert had proposed marriage to her, she had been determined that everything would be perfect. Perhaps if it was perfect, she thought, she would not feel the deep pang of loss, as though a part of her soul was being scooped out of her body and left on the floor of her childhood bedroom.
The wedding had come together quickly-- quicker than either of them had intended. Once Gilbert took a post at a neighboring town, he found a home for them to live in, and then what was the point of waiting? She wants to be with him in every possible way, but she hadn’t expected it all to come together so seamlessly. Growing up, she had always supposed that she would be a bride of vast imagination and the most opulent tastes. The reality of her wedding is far simpler: she had ended up desiring flowers from Hazel’s garden, white blossoms from her Snow Queen in her hair. The veil in Marilla’s trousseau was so special that Anne wouldn’t dream of wearing anything else, and though Anne can’t be certain, she is suspicious that Aunt Josephine and Diana had convinced their favorite seamstress to quote her an incorrect price and had paid for the rest of her wedding dress. By the time it was complete, Gilbert had already procured a marriage license from Charlottetown and Anne had negotiated a date with the minister-- a Wednesday, for luck, in late October, the greatest month of the year, if anyone asked Anne.
Everything had fallen into place with a firm, resounding click, but Anne had come to learn, even over the course of such a brief time, that her wedding could never be absolutely perfect. It simply couldn’t, because she would always wear a cloak of sadness over her shoulders, right underneath one of security. Both of them were necessary, and both of them would inevitably lead to Gilbert.
But oh, how hard it is so say goodbye to those who are embroidered into the cloth of one’s story.
Anne carefully dresses for bed, being sure to keep her warmest stockings on underneath her nightgown. It’s a slightly windy evening, so she decides to braid her hair to keep the locks from tangling, choosing at the last minute to split the braids into two like she used to when she was young. Satisfied with her work, she goes to sit by her window, lighting her oil lamp so that she can see the book in her lap. She doesn’t end up reading much, instead gazing at the dress that lies flat against the trousseau. She pictures herself floating down the aisle of the church towards Gilbert and tries to imagine what it will be like to feel that kind of uncontainable happiness. She’s had bits and pieces of it, it seems, but they will all come together tomorrow in the circlet that Gilbert slides onto her finger next to his mother’s ring.
Unable to help it, Anne sinks into a daydream of the expression on his face when he sees her. She imagines that she will love him more deeply than ever after that; knowing, after all this time, what he looks like when she is his bride. She’s so lost in it that she nearly misses Gilbert’s dark form coming up the path towards the front door. Quickly, Anne extinguishes her flame and slips out of her bedroom, shutting the door behind herself as quietly as she can manage. She’s lived at Green Gables long enough to know how to navigate it in the dark, and as she tip-toes down the stairs, shoes in hand, she proves to herself that she possesses at least a smattering of grace somewhere within. She doesn’t release her breath until she lands on the bottom step and tip-toes out the door, nearly tripping over Gilbert, who is waiting for her at the bottom of the porch.
She covers his mouth with her hand while he laughs, then starts to laugh too, because his laughter always seems to set her off. She wants to kiss the crinkle at the corner of his eye in an attempt to keep it there forever, but when she removes her hand Gilbert raises a finger to his lips and carefully guides her into the darkness. His horse and buggy lie just beyond the property, far away enough that Matthew and Marilla wouldn’t be able to hear it if Peggotty (why yes, Anne had spent too much time on the name) were to whinny.
Ever the gentleman, Gilbert helps Anne into the buggy, where he’s set a blanket on her seat. Anne unfolds it and spreads it over the both of them as Gil nudges Peggotty into motion, voice soft and kind amidst the crickets.
“Are you going to tell me where we’re going?” asks Anne, but she trusts him, so she simply rests her head on his shoulder and wraps her arm around his waist.
“What’s the fun in that?” Gilbert says in lieu of a reply, nuzzling her. Anne melts without spending so much as a moment to fight against it.
Gilbert brings them to the cliff that overlooks the beach that she, Matthew, and Marilla had gone to the first time Anne ever saw the ocean. They can’t see much of the water, but they get out of the buggy and spread the blanket out across the long, tall grass, settling in on it. Anne stretches out on her back and Gilbert rests his head on her stomach, giving her the opportunity to card her fingers through his hair.
They listen to the crickets for some time, the way their evening noises marry the sound of the sea. The world has so many spectacular sounds, each predestined to create the earth on which they reside. Anne feels honored to listen to her breaths and Gilbert’s breaths intermingling with the restlessness of the grass, the snores of the wind, and the tossing and turning of the ocean.
“Every time I think I have experienced the most exquisite moment of my life, this old world turns around and surprises me,” Anne murmurs just for Gilbert to hear.
“I feel the same way,” he agrees. “There’s something about the symmetry of it all. Makes it easier to breathe.” Anne brushes her fingers across his forehead because she can. “That’s why I brought you here, actually. Symmetry.”
Her response is perplexed. “We’ve never been here together.”
“No,” admits Gilbert. “But I stood here once and I let my mind go silent, and I realized that there would never be anybody for me but you. Even though you had told me you didn’t want to be with me, it wasn’t going to be worthwhile with someone else. You were it for me.”
“Oh, Gilbert.” It’s been a long time since she’s felt genuine misery at the memory of him assuming that she had been rejecting him, but she feels a sense of kinship with that young, guileless Gilbert, who had stood before her with the most open words and watched them tumble to the ground at her feet.
“I stood here and I thought to myself… okay. I can do solitude. I can be by myself if it means never having to lie about loving someone else when I knew that you were the only one for me.”
“Jane Austen wrote ‘I am determined that only the deepest love will induce me into matrimony’,” Anne quotes. “And I suspect she had it right.”
“I suspect I’ll never tire of hearing you say that you love me deeply,” says Gilbert, grinning up at her lazily. Anne, feeling that she has exercised quite enough self control for one night, bends at the waist and kisses him under the cover of darkness, chuckling when she feels his hand tug at one of her braids. She doesn’t pull back until the hoot of an overzealous owl roots her back to the ground that they are lying on. Gilbert stops her before she can get too far, lifting himself off of her stomach so that he’s on his knees in front of her.
“This time tomorrow,” he says, voice deep as she’s ever heard it. Anne feels the scrape of his voice all the way down in the pit of her stomach. She squeezes her hands together and tries to play it off.
“Oh, is something happening tomorrow night that's of any importance?"
“I hope so, Mrs. Blythe,” he teases, which warms her down to her toes.
“Are you planning on telling me why you’ve brought me out here?” Anne reminds him, trying to deflect from the delighted redness that lies beneath her freckles.
“Oh! Yes!” exclaims Gilbert, and he stands up and walks back over to the buggy, patting Peggotty’s nose with one hand as he digs through a saddlebag with the other. Anne is surprised when he returns to her with a small lantern and a thick diary that is stuffed to bursting with uneven pages. Gilbert settles back on the blanket with her, placing the lantern between the two of them, and crossing his legs as he thumbs the book open and rifles through the paper.
When he finally procures the page he’s searching for, his eyes scan the page multiple times, back and forth as he reads the words.
Her gentle voice seems to pull him back to her, and he wraps the blanket she’s wearing more securely around her shoulders before he speaks.
“Do you recall the first time we fell asleep together?”
“At Aunt Josephine’s, wasn’t it?” Anne says. “We’d just begun courting. Or, at least, it feels like the beginning now.”
“You said ‘I do solemnly swear,’” Gilbert continues. “When I asked you what you swore to, you said you didn’t know. After that, whenever there was something that I wanted to… to avow to you, I would scribble it in my diaries, in the margins of textbooks, on the sides of the letters you wrote to me. The last few nights I’ve gone back through and found all of the ones I could locate. Added a few new ones. And I was wondering if you would permit me to read them to you.”
Her throat tight, Anne nods.
“Our own private vows,” she says rapturously.
“Only for us, where no one else can witness. Because no one else matters.”
“Oh, Gilbert, it’s…” She hesitates, grasping at the air for the right word. “It’s perfect.”
Nothing about anything can be perfect, certainly nothing as complex as a wedding. But this is.
When he speaks, he does it in the slow, even voice that he would use to answer questions in the classroom. He pauses to look up at her when he can, occasionally getting lost in her affectionate gaze. When he speaks, the hand holding the paper isn’t steady, but his voice is.
“I, Gilbert Blythe,” he says, “do solemnly swear. I solemnly swear to kiss you goodnight and good morning, hello and goodbye. I solemnly swear to take care of you when you are sick, to allow you to humble me when I require it, to teach me when there is something I must learn. I do solemnly swear to eat your cooking even when it’s made with liniment, to continue to argue with you but to always make up, to listen to your stories at the end of the day and to tell you mine. I, Gilbert Blythe, solemnly swear to tell you good news before I tell anyone else, to hope that our children have red hair even though I know you’ll hate it, and to make you laugh every single day of the rest of your life. I swear to always be your husband and your best friend, never one or the other. To never allow you to feel abandoned. To never allow you to feel unwanted. To carry your burdens and let you carry mine so that neither of us is managing the weight alone. And I do solemnly vow that you will eternally be the object of my love and desire, my Anne with an E. I know now that I’ve been unwaveringly yours since the day we met. I vow to still be yours even after we have departed this earth.”
When he sets the paper down, Anne doesn’t even attempt to hide her tears. She doesn’t remember beginning to cry, only the symphony of emotions surging up inside of her and crashing into a chaotic crescendo at some point while Gilbert read his words out loud.
“I,” Anne begins, then realizes she doesn’t know what to say. It’s his turn to make her speechless.
“Are those good tears or bad tears?” asks Gilbert sweetly.
“Certainly good ones,” Anne says. His words make her laugh through her tears.
“Well then I have one more vow to add,” Gilbert decides. He leans forward on the blanket, momentarily eclipsing the lantern, so that the only way she can see him is by the light of the moon. “I do solemnly swear to always wipe away your sad tears and to celebrate the happy ones for the rest of our lives.”
Carefully, he places the pad of his thumb on her cheek and gently wipes away the tears there. Carefully, he repeats it on the other side, full of such ardent affection that Anne finds herself digging her palm into the small stone on her engagement ring, letting it notch itself into her skin. A part of her hopes that it leaves some sort of permanent mark so that her body knows for sure and certain that she belongs with Gilbert Blythe. The other part of her knows that, after tomorrow, it won’t much matter anymore.
He wraps his arms around her and holds her until her happiest of tears have dried. Then they pick up their things and wander back to the buggy. The grass behind them looks untouched as though they were never there. No one will know but them.
On the way back, Anne tucks herself under Gilbert’s arm and refuses to move until they pull up to Green Gables. They creep up to the front door just before midnight. Anne lets him press her gently against the doorframe and kiss her. She isn’t ready to walk away yet either.
“I notice that there wasn’t anything on that list about vowing to never refer to me as a garden vegetable,” she says when he releases her from their embrace.
“I only included promises I could keep, Carrots,” says Gilbert. He reaches into his pocket and produces the piece of paper with his beautiful words on it. “Here. For you.”
“No,” Anne says, gently moving his arm away from her. “I want you to have it tomorrow.”
His eyes shine as he looks down at her.
“Put it in your breast pocket tomorrow,” she instructs. “And only the two of us will know it’s there. Just… keep it safe for me, Gil.”
“I will.” He places it back in his pocket. Reaches up to tilt her head towards him. “See you tomorrow, then?”
“I’ll be the one walking next to Matthew,” Anne teases.
“I’ll be the one waiting for you,” Gilbert says.
But, no. Not any more.
How does one create a home? Anne has had one for longer than she did not, but it still feels like the impossible question to her. It is so stiflingly important, to create a place where they will begin their lives, their family, their future that they have been looking toward for so long. She thinks about it as Matthew drives her to the church. The town and its stories seem to flash before her eyes as they move past the little train station that he’d first picked her up from, past the wooded area where she had first met Gilbert, past the patch of grass where their schoolhouse had been when they were children-- the same place he had gotten down on one knee and asked her to marry him. Anne’s nervous heart only slows down when she sees Diana waiting to walk up the aisle and stand behind her. And then, promptly, it seems to stop altogether when she sees the expression on Gilbert’s face. He is suddenly all she can focus on, with the sunlight dripping into his eyes and his cheeks boyishly ruddy.
A home should be beautiful, shouldn’t it? Anne has never felt as beautiful as she does today, but it isn’t the same type of beauty. Today she feels ethereal, fearless, young and ancient simultaneously. There is a raw newness to it as she takes Gilbert’s arm to walk out into a sea of rice and cheering.
But a home’s beauty is quieter, Anne suspects. It is overstuffed cushions on chairs, a kitchen table that will get dirty, a shelf of books full to bursting. Their home should be as comfortable as their marriage itself, warm and unbreakable and familiar. Her vast scope of imagination has daydreamed thousands of drafty castles, exquisite parlors, and grand ballrooms, but the reality of a little house by a brook is so deeply preferable. Even as she hands out slices of cake to their friends, neighbors, and family, she finds herself thinking of summer, of digging her fingers into the balmy fsoil in their new garden, getting her petticoat dirty as she adds her own dashes of color to the green grass.
Gilbert had carried her over the threshold to peels of laughter, citing, over her giggles, old wives’ tales about the bride not being allowed to bump into the doorframe because it’s bad luck. When he finally puts her down, it echoes firmly across the half-empty house, sounding so much like the finality of true resolve. Anne walks slowly across the floor, surveying the sparse furnishings and space to be filled with tangible pieces of their partnership. Jerry and Gilbert had brought most of their things over the day before; Anne is startled to find their old school items tucked into a corner of the sitting room by the towering bookshelves. Two old slates, stacked one on top of the other.
She ducks upstairs to look. There’s a neatly made bed and her wedding trousseau is already there. When she opens the trunk, she finds a small bundle of blossoms from her Snow Queen resting at the top. Anne rests her hand against her chest momentarily, feeling so extraordinarily loved by the people with whom she shares her life.
As she’s about to close the trunk, she notices a small silver picture frame poking out of the various trappings of the marriage chest. Anne bends lower to pick it up and finds it is heavy, but empty. She runs her fingers across the edges and then she decides. Turning on her heel, Anne rushes down the staircase, finding Gilbert crouched on the floor in front of the fireplace, kindling a fire in their hearth. He looks up at her from where he sits on the floor, still in his wedding clothes, and slowly rises. Anne sets the frame on Gilbert’s father’s favorite armchair, which they’d tucked against the wall next to a lamp from Aunt Josephine’s attic, and moves close to him.
“Do you still like it here?” Gilbert asks carefully.
Anne tries to come up with words and finds that there is nothing better, in this moment, than to feel. She touches his cheek and moves his head down to her, kissing him. And she realizes (as he tilts into her and gives her back every inch of the affection she offers to him) that Gilbert is the truest intersection of comfort and heat. His arms, his touch, his eyes, his words are the place where those feelings meet. It is new and familiar simultaneously, searing her insides but soothing them with immediacy. He is the cure for the burn she feels when they touch.
She will always be learning about the power they have together. Sometimes, as fiercely as Anne loves him, she thinks that she underestimates everything they are.
They have a home. Independent of these four walls, the stove in the kitchen, the Bible in their bedroom, they have built something from scratch and then chosen, together, to keep making it better.
Still kissing Gilbert, Anne sneaks her hand inside of his jacket and retracts the thick piece of paper that she had told him to keep in there today. She pulls away, unfolding it, and reads the list that he had written for her over years and years of loving her. Quietly, with a sense of inexplicable profundity, she walks over to the armchair and picks up the frame again. After unscrewing the back, she places the piece of paper inside of it and turns it around. Gilbert’s writing is protected by the covering over the frame.
Anne sets her chin and walks over to the mantle, placing the silver frame on top of it, right in the center. She feels Gilbert come up behind her, his back pressing against hers as he wraps his arms around her stomach and places his chin on top of her head. She’s never been so comfortable, standing in his arms in front of the fire that he created for them, reading and rereading the words he had promised her.
Anne had once feared that an orphan wouldn’t know how to create a home. She’d been stuck in these fears, sinking in them, because she’d never had any place that is entirely her own from start to finish. But as they stand there in the glow of their fireplace, it suddenly feels simple. Anne can feel roots growing out of her feet and spreading, writhingly, confidently across the ground.
It doesn’t have to be complete yet. It will be finished in years and years, after they have filled it with laughter and stories and children and time.
“We got married,” she murmurs to Gilbert Blythe, who kisses the corner of her smile.
“We did,” he says, tightening his arms around her. “We’re here.”